The Diary of a Furnace Worker
The Diary of a
CHARLES RUMFORD WALKER
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY PRESS
Copyright, 1922, by
CHARLES RUMFORD WALKER
PUNTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
IN the summer of 1919, a few weeks before the
Great Steel Strike, I bought some second-hand
clothes and went to work on an open-hearth fur-
nace near Pittsburgh to learn the steel business. I was
a graduate of Yale, and a few weeks before had re-
signed a commission as first-lieutenant in the regular
army. Clean-up man in the pit was my first job,
which I held until I passed to third-helper on the
open-hearth. Later I worked in the cast-house, be-
came a member of the stove-gang, and at length
achieved the semi-skilled job of hot-blast man on the
blast-furnace. I acquired the current Anglo-Hunky
language and knew speedily the grind and the cama-
raderie of American steel-making. In these chapters I
have put down what I saw, felt, and thought as a
steel-worker in 1919.
Steel is perhaps the basic industry of America. In
a sense it is the industry that props our complex indus-
trial civilization, since it supplies the steel frame, the
steel rail, the steel tool without which locomotives and
skyscrapers would be impossible. And in America it
contains the largest known combination of manage-
ment and capital, the United States Steel Corpora-
tion. Some appreciation of these things I had when I
went to work in the steel business. It was clear that
steel had become something of a barometer not only
for American business but for American labor. I was
keenly interested to know what would happen, and
believed that basic industries like steel and coal were
cast for leading roles either in the breaking-up or the
making-over of society.
The book is written from a diary of notes put down
in the evenings when I was working on day shifts of
ten hours. Alternate weeks, I worked the fourteen-
hour night shift, and spent my time off eating or
The book is a narrative heat, fatigue, rough-
house, pay, as they came in an uncharted wave
throughout the twenty-four hours.
But it is in a sense raw material, I believe, that sug-
gests the beginnings of several studies both human
and economic. Mr. Walter Lippmann has recently
pointed out that men do not act in accordance with
the facts and forces of the world as it is, but in accord-
ance with the " picture " of it they have in their heads. 1
Nowhere does the form and pressure of the real world
differ more sharply from the picture in men's heads
than among different social and racial groups in indus-
try. Nor is anywhere the accuracy of the picture of
more importance. An open-hearth furnace helper,
working the twelve-hour day, and a Boston broker,
owning fifty shares of Steel Preferred, hold, as a rule,
strikingly different pictures of the same forces and
conditions. But what is of greater importance is that
director, manager, foreman, by reason of training,
1 Public Opinion: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922
interest, or tradition, are often quite as unable to
guess at the picture in the worker's head, and hence
to understand his actions, as the more distant stock-
Perhaps a technique may some day arise which will
supply the executives of industry not only with the
facts about employees in their varied racial and social
groups but supply the facts with due emphasis and in
three dimensions so that the controller of power may
be able to see them as descriptive of men of like
mind with himself. The conclusion most burned into
my consciousness was the lack of such knowledge or
understanding in the steel industry and the impera-
tive need of securing it, in order to escape continual
industrial war, and perhaps disaster.
There are certain inferences, I think, like the above,
that can be made from this record. But no thesis has
been introduced and no argument developed. I have
recorded the impressions of a complex environment,
putting into words sight, sound, feeling, and thought.
The book may be read as a story of men and machines
and a personal adventure among them no less than
as a study of conditions and a system.
C. R. W.
I CAMP EUSTIS
Bouton, Pennsylvania 1
II MOLTEN STEEL IN THE "PIT"
An Initiation 16
III THE OPEN-HEARTH FURNACE
IV EVERYDAY LIFE 45
V WORKING THE TWENTY-FOUR-HOUR
VI BLAST-FURNACE APPRENTICESHIP ... 81
VII DUST, HEAT, AND COMRADESHIP .... 96
VIII I TAKE A DAY OFF 114
IX "No CAN LIVE" 127
S T E EL
CAMP EUSTIS BOUTON, PENNSYLVANIA
A SMALL torrent of khaki swept on to the ferryboat
that was taking troops to the special train for Camp
Merritt. They stood all over her deck, in uncomfort-
ably small areas ; there seemed to be no room for the
pack, which perhaps you were expected to swallow.
Faces were a little pale from seasickness, but carried
a uniformly radiant expression, which proceeded from
a lively anticipation of civilian happiness. The con-
versation was ejaculatory, and included slapping and
digging and squeezing your neighbor. Men were say-
ing over and over again: "This is about the last li'l war
they '11 ketch me for."
I succeeded in getting beside the civilian pilot.
"What's happening in America?" I asked.
"Oh," he said, "it's a mess over here. There ain't
any jobs, and labor is raisin' hell. Everybody that hez
a job strikes." He looked out over the water at a tug
hurrying past. "I don't know what we're comin' out
at. Russia, mebbe."
In the spring of the year Camp Eustis was an island
of concrete roads and wooden barracks salvaged from
an encroaching sea of mud. Its site had been selected
at an immense distance from any village, or even any
collection of .human dwellings, for particular reasons.
It v/as tc> .contain the longest artillery range in the
After wallowing in bog road through Virginian
forest, one came with a shock of relief to a wide,
raised, concrete roadbed, which passed newly built
warehouses and, after an eighth of a mile, curved into
the centre of the camp.
It was like any one of the score of mushroom mili-
tary centres that grew up on American soil in the
years from 1917 to 1919, except that there was an un-
usual abundance of heavy guns. They covered field
upon field, opposite the ordnance warehouses, and
their yellow and green camouflage looked absurdly
showy in the spring sunshine. Mornings, there was
apt to be a captive balloon or two afloat from the
balloon school, against blue sky and white clouds;
and the landscape held several gaunt observation
towers, constructed of steel girders and rising from
the forest to a height of seventy-five or eighty feet.
The camp was crowded with returning overseas
units, awaiting demobilization and praying earnestly
for it day by day, as men pray for pardon.
In a few weeks I should be out of this, going to work
somewhere, wearing cits. What a variety of moods the
world had split into, from the enormous tension that
relaxed on the eleventh of November. Geographically
the training-camp was two thousand miles from the
devastations of Europe; and from the new forces that
were destroying or renewing civilization, how many
more? It seemed like the aftermath of an exciting
CAMP EUSTIS 3
play that had just been acted; waiting here was like
staying to put away properties, and dismiss the actors.
It occurred to me that the camp was at least ten
thousand miles from America.
There was one consolation in this interminable
lingering amid the spring muds and rains of Virginia.
Duties were light, and there were a hundred and fifty
cavalry horses in the stables, needing exercise. Some-
times we went out on the drill-ground and were taught
tricks by an old cavalry officer; or hurdles were set up
and we practised jumping our horses. The roads were
deeply gutted by spring rains and the pressure of
heavy trucks, but there were wood-trails good to ex-
plore, and interesting objectives like Williamstown or
Yorktown. I fell into doing my thinking in the saddle.
Naturally I wondered about my new job my
civilian job. It was not just an ordinary change from
one breadwinning place to another. It was a new job
in a world never convertible quite to the one that had
kindled the war. It was impossible not to feel that the
civilized structure had shaken and disintegrated a bit,
or to escape the sense of great powers released. I was
unable to decide whether the powers were cast for a
role of great destruction or of great renewal.
Even in Eustis we received newspapers. The urge
and groan of those powers naturally worked into
phrases now and then, and even into special tightly
worded formulae. I remember newspaper ejacula-
tions, professorial dissertations, orators' exaggera-
tions : " Capital and labor Labor in its place The
proletariat A new order" and so forth. I felt
confused and distrustful in the face of phrases and
of the implied doctrines, old and new.
Besides the business of demobilizing the national
army, the remaining regular officers and non-coms
went into the school of fire, and practised observation
of shots over a beautiful relief map of the "Chemin-
des-Dames." This was the most warlike thing we did
and continued for several months.
One day I took a walk beside the ordnance ware-
houses, and looked over at the rows of guns stretching
for a quarter of a mile beside railroad tracks. In a
short time I would be turning my back on these com-
plicated engines. I was even sorry about it, a little;
I had spent so much sweat and brain learning about
In that civil life to follow, I began to see that I
wanted two things: 1, a job to give me a living; 2, a
chance to discover and build under the new social and
I was twenty-five, a college graduate, a first-lieu-
tenant in the army. In the civilian world into which
I was about to jump, most of my connections were
with the university I had recently left, few or none in
the business world. Why not enlist, then, in one of the
basic industries, coal, oil, or steel? I liked steel it
was the basic American industry, and technically and
economically it interested me. Why not enlist in steel ?
Get a laborer's job? Learn the business ? And, besides,
the chemical forces of change, I meditated, were at
work at the bottom of society
CAMP EUSTIS 5
The next day I sent in the resignation of my com-
mission in the regular army of the United States.
Outside the car window, ore piles were visible,
black stacks and sooty sheet-iron mills, coal dumps
and jagged cuts in the hills against greenness and the
meadows and mountains beyond. There were farms,
here and there, but they seemed to have been let in
by sufferance amid the primary apparatus of the
What an amazingly primary thing steel had become
in the civilization we called modern! Steel was the
basic industry of America ; but, more than that, it was,
in a sense, the buttress, the essential frame, rather, of
present-day life. It made rails, surgical instruments,
the girders of skyscrapers, the tools which cut, bored,
and filed all the other tools that made, in their turn,
the material basis of our living. It was interesting to
think that it contained America's biggest "trust,"
the greatest example of integration, of financial, of
managerial combination, anywhere to be found.
Steel was critical in America's future, was n't it
critical for business, critical for labor?
I met a salesman on the train, who was about to go
into business for himself. "I intend to start out on a
new tack," he said.
He told me briefly his life-story, and how things
were forcing him to start a new enterprise, alone. He
was very much excited by the idea. He was going to
quit his employer, having been with him twenty-nine
"I'm getting a new job myself," I said; "I've just
got out of the army."
We both fell into silence, and thought of our own
What were a young man's chances in American
business to-day? I thought of a book I had just been
reading called, "The Age of Big Business." In it was
the story of the first captains who saw a vision of
immense material development, and with the utmost
vigor and hardihood pushed on and marked the lead-
ing trails. But apparently the affair had been too
roughly done, the structure too crudely wrought:
machinery jarred, broke, threatened to bring life
down in a rusty heap. "No, you are wrong," I fancied
the business leader saying; "it is the agitator who, by
dwelling on imaginary ills, has stirred up the masses
I gazed out of the window at the black mills as we
passed them. I was about to learn the steel business.
I knew perfectly well that the men who built this
basic structure were as hardy and intelligent no
less and no more so, I hazarded as this new genera-
tion of mine. But the job difficult technical job
though it was appeared too simple in their eyes.
"Build up business, and society will take care of
itself," they had said. A partial breakdown, a partial
revolution had resulted. Perhaps a thoroughgoing
revolution threatened. I did n't know.
I knew there was no "solution." There was
nothing so neat as that for this multiform condition.
But an adjustment, a working arrangement would be
CAMP EUSTIS 7
found out, somehow, by my generation. I expected to
discover no specific no formula with ribbons
after working at the bottom of the mill. I did expect
to learn something of the practical technique of mak-
ing steel, and alongside it, despite, or perhaps be-
cause of, an outsider's fresh vision, some sense of
the forces getting ready at the bottom of things to
make or break society. Both kinds of education were
certainly up to my generation.
The train jarred under its brakes, and began to
"Good luck," I said to the salesman; "I hope you
make it all right."
"Good luck," he said.
The train stopped and I found the Bouton station,
small and neatly built, of a gray stone, with deeply
overhanging roof and Gothicized windows. It seemed
unrelated to the rest of the steel community. On the
right, across tracks, loomed a dark gathering of stacks
arising from irregular acres of sheet-iron roofs. Smoke-
columns of various texture, some colored gold from an
interior light, streaked the sky immediately above the
mill stacks. The town spread itself along a valley and
on the sides of encircling hills on my left. In the fore-
ground was Main Street, with stores and restaurants
and a fruit-seller. I went across the street to explore
"Can I look at the job?" I asked.
"Sure," he said, "you can look at the job."
I walked out of the square, brick office of the
open-hearth foreman, and lost my way in a maze of
railroad tracks, trestles, and small brick shanties, at last
pushing inside a blackened sheet-iron shell, the mill.
I entered by the side, following fierce white lights
shining from the half-twilight interior. They seemed
immensely brighter than the warm sun in the heavens.
I was first conscious of the blaring mouths of
furnaces. There were five of them, and men with
shovels in line, marching within a yard, hurling a
white gravel down red throats. Two of the men were
stripped, and their backs were shiny in the red flare.
I tried to feel perfectly at home, but discovered a deep
consciousness of being overdressed. My straw hat I
could have hurled into a ladle of steel.
Some one yelled, "Watch yourself!" and I looked
up, with some horror, to note half the mill moving
slowly but resolutely onward, bent on my annihila-
tion. I was mistaken. It was the charging-machine,
rattling and grinding past furnace No. 7.
The machine is a monster, some forty feet from head
to rear, stretching nearly the width of the central open
space in the mill. The tracks on which it proceeds go
the whole length, in front of all the furnaces. I dodged
it, or rather ran from it, toward what appeared open
water, but found there more tracks for stumbling. An
annoyed whistle lifted itself against the general back-
ground of noise. I looked over my shoulder. It re-
lieved me to find a mere locomotive. I knew how to
cope with locomotives. It was coming at me leisurely,
so I gave it an interested inspection before leaving the
track. It dragged a cauldron of exaggerated propor-
CAMP EUSTIS 9
tions on a car fitted to hold it easily. A dull glow
showed from inside, and a swirl of sparks and smoke
shot up and lost themselves among girders.
The annoyed whistle recurred. By now the charg-
ing affair had lumbered past, was still threatening
noisily, but was two furnaces below. I stepped back
into the central spaces of the mill.
The foreman had told me to see the melter, Peter
Grayson. I asked a short Italian, with a blazing face
and weeping eyes, where the melter was.
He stared hostilely at me.
"Pete Grayson," I said.
"Oh, Pete," he returned; "there! "
I followed his eyes past a pile of coal, along a pipe,
up to Pete. He was a Russian, of Atlas build, bent,
vast-shouldered, a square head like a box. He was
lounging slowly toward me with short steps. Coming
into the furnace light, I could see he was an old man
with white hair under his cap, and a wooden face
which, I was certain, kept a uniform expression in all
"What does a third-helper do?" I asked when he
Pete spat and turned away, as if the question dis-
gusted him profoundly. But I noticed in a moment
that he was giving the matter thought.
We waited two minutes. Finally he said, looking at
me, "Why a third-helper has got a hell of a lot to do."
He seemed to regard this quantitative answer as
"I know," I said, "but what in hell does he do?"
He again looked at the floor, considered, and spat.
"Reworks around the furnace," he said.
I saw that I should have to accept this as a pro-
spectus. So I began negotiations. "I want a job,"
I said. "I come from Mr. Towers. Have you got
He looked away again and said, "They want a man
on the night-shift. Can you come at five?"
My heart leaped a bit at "the night-shift." I
thought over the hours-schedule the employment
manager had rehearsed: "Five to seven, fourteen
hours, on the night-week."
"Yes," I said.
We had just about concluded this verbal contract,
when a chorus of "Heows" hit our eardrums. Men
make such a sound in a queer, startling, warning way,
difficult to describe. I looked around for the charg-
ing machine, or locomotive, but neither was in range.
"What are they 'Heowing' about?" I thought
violently to myself.
But Pete had already grabbed my arm with a hand
like a crane-hook. "Want to watch y'self," he said;
I saw what it was, now : the overhead crane, about
to carry over our heads a couple of tons of coal in a
huge swaying box.
I looked around a little more before I left, trying to
organize some meaning into the operations I observed;
trying to wonder how it would be to take a shovel
and hurl that white gravel into those red throats. I
said to myself: "Hell! I guess I can handle it," and
CAMP EUSTIS ii
thought strongly on the worst things I had known in
As I stood, a locomotive entered the mill from the
other end, and went down the track before the
furnaces. It was dragging flat-cars, with iron boxes
laid crosswise on them, as big as coffins. I went over
and looked carefully at the train load, and at one or
two of the boxes. They were filled with irregular
shapes of iron, wire coils, bars, weights, sheets, frag-
ments of machines, in short scrap.
"This is what they eat," I thought, glancing at the
glowing doors; "I wonder how many tons a day."
I waited till the locomotive came to a shaken stop in
front of the middle furnace, then left the mill by the
tracks along which it had entered.
I followed them out and along a short bridge. A
little way to my right was solid ground the yards,
where I had been. Back of Mr. Towers's little office
were more mills. I picked out the power house
half a city block. Behind them all were five cone-
shaped towers, against the sky, and a little smoke
curling over the top the blast-furnaces. Behind
me the Bessemer furnace threw off a cloud of fire that
had changed while I was in the mill from brown to
brownish gold. In front, and to my left, the tracks
ran on the edge of a sloping embankment that fell
away quickly to a lower level. Fifty yards from the
base was the blooming-mill, where the metal was be-
ing rolled into great oblong shapes called " blooms."
A vague red glow came out of its interior twilights.
Down through the railroad ties on which I walked
was open space, twenty feet below. Two workmen
were coming out with dinner-buckets. It must be
nearly twelve. I had a curiosity to know the arrange-
ment and workings of the dark mill-cellar from which
Turning back on the open-hearth mill, when I had
crossed the bridge, I could see that it extended itself,
in a sort of gigantic lean-to shelter, over what the
melter had called the "pit." There was a crane mov-
ing about there, and more centres of light, which I
took to be molten steel. I wondered about that area,
too, and what sort of work the men did.
When I reached the end of the track, I thought to
myself: "I go to work at five o'clock. How about
No one in the mill wore overalls, except car-
penters and millwrights, and so on. The helpers
on the furnaces were clad in shapeless, baggy, gray
affairs for trousers, and shirts were blue or gray, with
a rare khaki. Hats were either degraded felts, or those
black- visor effects like locomotive engineers.
The twelve-o'clock whistle blew. A few men had
been moving toward the gate slowly for minutes. The
whistle sent them at top walking-speed. I stared at
them to assure myself as to the correct dress for steel
Main Street began at the tracks, and ran straight
through the town, mounting the hills as it went. At
the railroad end was the Hotel Bouton, where I had
breakfasted. Beside it was an Italian fruit store
CAMP EUSTIS 13
sprawling leisurely over the sidewalk, and a Greek
restaurant, one of four. The Greeks monopolized the
feeding of Bouton. A block farther, on the right, I
ran into a clothing-store, a barber-shop, and two
rudimentary department stores. Then, on the same
side, a finished city block, looking queer and haughty
arnid its village companions.
" What's that?" I asked a strolling, raw-boned
"Comp'ny store," he said.
I passed a one-story movie "palace," almost con-
cealed behind chromatic advertising, and then the
street twisted and I entered the " American quarter."
Half a mile of neat, slightly varying brick houses, with
lawns fifteen by twenty, and children in such quantity
as seriously to menace automobiles.
I looked at the numbers with growing interest, to
discover in which I should go to bed to-morrow morn-
ing at 7.30. The employment manager had given me
the number 343 to try. Here it was, on the right,
quite like the others, and, I guessed, about twenty
minutes from the mill. Calculation of the rising-times
for future night-shifts came into my mind.
I was shown the back room on the second floor a
very good room, with a big bed, and two windows.
: ' You can see our garden," said Mrs. Farrell stand-
ing at one of the windows.
I looked out and found the most intensively culti-
vated twenty-foot plot I had ever seen or imagined.
Behind was the back road and a mud cliff. The room
seemed a little extravagant for a third-helper, but I
took it, in order to have a place for the night, and con-
tracted to pay four dollars a week.
I walked through a street where the prices of cloth-
ing were moderate, but where there seemed a dearth of
second-hand shops. In one store were green suits,
belted, and hung on forms. They had the close-fitting
waist, and were marked, "Style Plus Garments: Our
Special Price, 315.00." The proprietor, who stood in
the doorway, to be handy for collaring the prospec-
tive customer, rushed out at me, hands threatening.
He was of the prevailing racial type.
"Fix you up wid a dandy suit," he said.
"What I am looking for," I said, "is something
second-hand. Do you have any?" I shot this out
partly as a check.
"Old man upstairs, fix you up. That door."
I went through that door and up two flights, to a
room containing an old man, a sewing machine, and a
large table covered with old clothing.
"I 'm looking for something for working-clothes,"
I said; "second-hand coat and pants."
He lifted a number from the tangled mass of gar-
ments, and displayed them. They appeared to me too
clean, too new, too dressy.
"No," I said, "not that."
He searched again and came up with a highly
respectable blue coat, with a mere raveling on one
"No," I said, "I '11 find one."
I fished very deeply, and caught some green pants,
CAMP EUSTIS 15
evidently "old" and spattered with white paint on
the knees. He hastened to point out the white paint.
I tried to explain that I liked a little white paint on
my clothes, but saw I was unconvincing. I finally
bought the suit with a sort of violence for two dollars,
and left with a sense of fortunate escape.
Now for a hat. Two blocks down the street I found
one, somewhat soiled and misshapen.
"I '11 take that," I said.
The clerk lifted it, and, when I was fumbling for
money, brushed off a vast portion of the dirt, and re-
shaped it into smooth, luxuriant curves. But still I
bought the hat.
"At any rate," I thought, "I can restore the thing."
MOLTEN STEEL AN INITIATION
AT four o'clock I put on my paint-spattered pants,
the coat with a conspicuous hole near one of the
buttons, and my green hat. I climbed the little hill
before the gate, among leisurely first arrivals, and
found myself attracting no attention whatsoever. I felt
for the brass check in my shirt pocket, found it,
and rebuttoned the pocket. The guard peered into my
face, as if he were going to ask for a, pass, but did n't.
I walked the four hundred yards to the open-hearth,
and noticed clearly for the first time the yard of the
blooming-mill. Here varied shapes of steel, looking
as if they weighed several thousand pounds each,
were issuing from the mill on continuous treads, and
moving about the yard in a most orderly, but com-
plex manner. Electric cranes were sweeping over the
quarter-acre of yard-space, and lifting and piling the
steel swiftly and precisely on flat cars.
I entered the open-hearth mill by the tracks that
ran close to the furnaces. The mill noises broke on
me: a moan and rattle of cranes overhead, fifty- ton
ones; the jarring of the train-loads of charge-boxes
stopping suddenly in front of Number 4; and minor
sounds like chains jangling on being dropped, or
gravel swishing out of a box. I was conscious of
MOLTEN STEEL AN INITIATION 17
muscles growing tense in the face of this violent en-
vironment, a somewhat artificial and eager calm. I
walked with excessive firmness, and felt my person-
ality contracting itself into the mere sense of sight
I looked for Pete.
"He's in his shanty over there, "said an American
furnace-helper, who was getting into his mill clothes.
I went after Pete's shanty. It was a sheet-iron box,
12 by 12, midway down the floor, near a steel beam.
Pete was coming out, buttoning the lower buttons of a
blue shirt. He looked through my head and passed
me, much as he had passed the steel beam. With two
or three steps I moved out and blocked his way. He
looked at me, loosened his face, and said very cheer-
"I 've come to work," I said.
"Here," he said, "you '11 work th' pit t' night. Few
days, y' know, get used ter things."
He led the way to some iron stairs, and we went
down together into that darkened region under the
furnaces, about whose function I had speculated.
To the left I could make out tracks. Railroads
seem to run through a steel mill from cellar to attic.
And at intervals, from above the tracks, torrents of
sparks swept into the dark, with now and then a small
stream of yellow fire.
We stumbled over bricks, mud, clay, a shovel, and
the railroad track. In front of a narrow curtain of
molten slag, falling on the floor, we waited for some
moments. We were under the middle furnaces, I
calculated. Gradually the curtain ceased, and Pete
leaped under the hole from which it had come.
"Watch yourself," he said.
I followed him with a broad jump, and a prayer
about the falling slag.
We came out into the pit, which had so many bright
centres of molten steel that it was lighter than out-
doors. I watched Pete's back chiefly, and my own feet.
We kept stepping between little chunks of dark slag,
which made your feet hot, and close to a bucket, ten
feet high, which gave forth smoke. Wheelbarrows
we met, with and without men, and metal boxes, as
large as wagons, dropped about a dirt floor. We
avoided a hole with a fire at its centre.
At last, at the edge of the pit, near more tracks, we
ran into the pit gang: eight or ten men, leaning on
shovels and forks and blinking at the molten metal
falling into a huge bucket-like ladle.
:< Y' work here" said Pete, and moved on.
I remember feeling a half-pleasurable glow as I
looked about the strenuous environment, of which I
was to become a part a glow mixed with a touch of
anxiety as to what I was up against for the next
Two of the eight men looked at me, and grinned.
I grinned back and put on my gloves.
"No. 6 furnace?" I asked, nodding toward the
"Ye-ah," said the man next me.
He was a cleanly built person, in loose corduroy
pants, blue shirt open at his neck. Italian.
MOLTEN STEEL AN INITIATION 19
He grinned with extraordinary friendliness, and
said, "First night, this place?"
"Yes," I returned.
"Goddam hell of a job," he said, very genially.
We both turned to look at the stream again.
For ten minutes we stood and stared. Two men lit
cigarettes, and sat on a wheelbarrow; four of the
others had nodded to me; the other three stared.
I was eager to organize into reasonableness a little
of this strenuous process that was going forward with
a hiss and a roar about me.
"That's the ladle? " I said, to start things.
:< Ye-ah, w'ere yer see metal come, dat's spout,
crane tak' him over pour platform, see; pour man
mak li'l hole in ladle, fill up moul' see de moul'
on de flat cars? "
The Italian was a professor to me. I got the place
named and charted in good shape before the night was
out. The pit was an area of perhaps half an acre, with
open sides and a roof. Two cranes traversed its entire
extent, and a railway passed through its outer edge,
bearing mammoth moulds, seven feet high above their
flat cars. Every furnace protruded a spout, and, when
the molten steel inside was "cooked," tilted back-
ward slightly and poured into a ladle. A bunch of
things happened before that pouring. Men appeared
on a narrow platform with a very twisted railing, near
the spout, and worked for a time with rods. They
prodded up inside, till a tiny stream of fire broke
through. Then you could see them start back in the
nick of time to escape the deluge of molten steel. The
stream in the spout would swell to the circumference of
a man's body, and fall into the ladle, that oversized
bucket thing, hung conveniently for it by the electric
crane. A dizzy tide of sparks accompanied the stream,
and shot out quite far into the pit, at times causing
men to slap themselves to keep their clothing from
breaking out into a blaze. There were always staccato
human voices against the mechanical noise, and you
distinguished by inflection, whether you heard com-
mand, or assent, or warning, or simply the lubrica-
tions of profanity.
As the molten stuff rose toward the top of the ladle,
curdling like a gigantic pot of oatmeal, somebody
gave a yell, and slowly, by an entirely concealed
power, the 250-ton furnace lifted itself erect, and the
steel stopped flowing down the spout.
But it splashed and slobbered enormously in the
ladle at this juncture; a few hundred pounds ran over
the edge to the floor of the pit. This, when it had
cooled a little, it would be our job to clean up, sepa-
rating steel scrap from the slag, and putting it into
boxes for remelting.
When a ladle was full, the crane took it gingerly in
a sweep of a hundred feet through mid-air, and, as
Fritz said, the men on the pouring platform released
a stopper from a hole in the bottom, to let out the
steel. It flowed out in a spurting stream three or four
inches thick, into moulds that stood some seven feet
high on flat cars.
" Clean off the track on Number 7, an' make it fast,"
from the pit boss, accompanied by a neat stream of
MOLTEN STEEL AN INITIATION 21
tobacco juice, which began to steam vigorously when
it struck the hot slag at his feet.
We passed through to the other side of the furnaces,
by going under Number 6, a bright fall of sparks from
the slag-hole just missing the heels of the last man.
"Is n't that dangerous and unnecessary?" I said
to myself, angrily. " Why do we have to dodge under
We moved in the dark along a track that turned in
under Seven, into a region of great heat. Before us
was a small hill of partially cooled slag, blocking the
track. It was like a tiny volcano, actively fluid in the
centre, with the edges blackened and hard.
I found out very quickly the why of this mess. The
furnace is made to rock forward, and spill out a few
hundred pounds of the slag that floats on top. A short
"buggy" car runs under, to catch the flow. But some-
body had blundered no buggy was there when the
"Get him up queek, and let buggy come back for
nex' time," explained an Italian with moustachios,
who carried the pick. "Huh, whatze matter goddam
first-helper, letta furnace go?" he added angrily.
This job took us three hours. The Italian went in
at once with the pick, and loosened a mass of cinder
near one of the rails. Fritz and I followed up with
shovels, hurling the stuff away from the tracks.
The slag is light, and you can swing a fat shovelful
with ease; but mixed with it are clumps of steel that
follow the slag over the furnace doors. It grew hotter
as we worked in three inches of red heat, to a slag
cake six inches thick.
"Hose," said someone. The Italian found it in
back of the next furnace, and screwed it to a spigot
between the two. We became drowned in steam.
We had been at it about an hour and a half, and I
was shoveling back loose cinder, with a little speed to
get it over with. " Rest yourself," commanded Mous-
tachios. "Lotza time, lotza time."
I leaned on my shovel and found rather mixed
feelings rising inside me. I was a little resentful at
being told what to do; a little pleased that I was up,
at least, to the gang standard; a little in doubt as
to whether we ought not to be working harder; but,
on the whole, tired enough to dismiss the question
and lean on my shovel.
The heat was bad at times (from 120 to 130 de-
grees when you're right in it, I should guess). It was
like constantly sticking your head into the fireplace.
When you had a cake or two of newly turned slag,
glowing on both sides, you worked like hell to get
your pick work done and come out. I found a given
amount of work in heat fatigued at three times the
rate of the same work in a cooler atmosphere. But it
was exciting, at all events, and preferable to mo-
We used the crowbar and sledge on the harder
ledges of the stuff, putting a loose piece under the bar
When it was well cleared, a puffy switch-engine
came out of the dark from the direction of Number 4,
MOLTEN STEEL AN INITIATION 23
and pushed a buggy under the furnace. The engineer
was short and jolly-looking, and asked the Italians a
few very personal questions in a loud ringing voice.
Everyone laughed, and all but Fritz and I undertook
a new cheekful of "Honest Scrap." I smoked a Camel
and gave Fritz one.
Then Al, the pit boss, came through. He was an
American, medium husky, cap on one ear, and spat
through his teeth. I guessed that Al somehow was n't
as hard-boiled as he looked, and found later that he
was new as a boss. I concluded that he adopted this
exterior in imitation of bosses of greater natural gifts
in those lines, and to give substance to his authority.
He used to be a workman in the tin mill.
"All done? If the son of a of a first-helper
on the furnace had any brains . . ." and so forth.
"Now get through and clean out the goddam mess in
We went through, and Fritz used the pick against
some very dusty cinder that was entirely cool, and
was massed in great piles on the front side of the
"Getta wheelbarrow, you"
I started for the wheelbarrow, just the ghost of a
resentment rising at being "ordered about" by a
"Wop" and then fading out into the difficulties I had
in finding the wheelbarrow. Two or three things that
day I had been sent for things whose whereabouts
were a closed book. "Where the devil," I muttered to
myself, violently disturbed, "are wheelbarrows?" I
found one, at last, near the masons under Number 4,
and started off.
"Hey, what the hell? what the hell?"
So much for that wheelbarrow.
I found another, behind a box, near Number 8,
and pushed it back over mud, slag, scrap, and pipes
and things. I never knew before what a bother a
wheelbarrow is on an open-hearth pit floor. Only four
of us stayed for work under Number 7, a German
laborer and I cooperating with shovel and wheel-
barrow on the right-hand cinder pile.
We had been digging and hauling an hour, and it
was necessary to reach underneath the slag-hole to
get at what was left. I always glanced upward for
sparks and slag when shoveling, and allowed only my
right hand and shovel to pass under. Just as arm and
shovel went in for a new lot Fritz yelled, "Watch
out!" I pulled back with a frog's leap, and dodged a
shaft of fat sparks, spattering on the pit floor. A
second later, the sparks became a tiny stream, the
size of a finger, and then a torrent of molten slag, the
size of an arm. The stuif bounded and splashed vigor-
ously when it struck the ground.
It did n't get us, and in a second we both laughed
from a safe distance.
"Goddam slag come queek," said Fritz, grinning.
"How you like job?" he added.
Before I had any chance to discuss the nuances of a
clean-up's walk in life, Fritz was pointing out a new
source of molten danger.
We were standing now in the main pit, beyond the
overhanging edge of the furnace.
"Look out now, zee!" said Fritz, pointing upward.
MOLTEN STEEL AN INITIATION 25
Almost over our head was Number 7's spout, and,
dribbling off the end, another small rope of sparks.
We fell over each other to the pit's edge, stopping
when we reached tracks. Looking back at once, we
saw that the stream had thickened like the other in
the slag-hole. But here it was molten steel, and with
a long drop of thirty feet. The rebound of the thud-
ding molten metal sent it off twenty-five or thirty
feet in all directions. Three different groups of men
were backing off toward the edge of the pit.
The stream swelled steadily till it reached the cir-
cumference of a man's body, and fell in a thudding
shaft of metallic flame to the pit's floor. Spatterings
went out in a moderately symmetrical circle forty
feet across. The smaller gobs of molten stuff made
minor centres of spatter of their own. It was a spec-
tacle that burned easily into memory.
The gang of men at the edge of the pit watched the
thing with apparent enjoyment. I wondered slowly
two things: one, whether anyone ever got caught
under such a molten Niagara, and two, whether
the pit was going to have a steel floor before it could
be stopped. How could it be stopped, anyway?
The craneman had been busy for some minutes
picking up a ladle from Number 4, and at that instant
he swung it under, and the process of steel-flooring
What the devil had happened ? I talked with every-
body I could as they broke up at the pit's edge. It
1 1 learned later the flow could have been stopped by simply tilting back the.
furnace, but the craneman was ready and so brought the ladle up.
was a rare thing I learned: the mud and dolomite
(a limestone substance) in the tap-hole had not been
properly packed, and broke through. My compan-
ions told me about another occasion, some years
before, when molten steel got loose. It happened on
the Bessemer furnaces, and the workers had n't
either the luck or agility of ourselves. It caught
twenty-four men in the flow killed and buried
them. The company, with a sense of the proprieties,
waited until the families of the men moved before
putting the scrap, which contained them, back into
the furnace for remelting.
As I ate three bowls of oatmeal at the Greek's, at
7.15, I thought, "Those fellows do these shifts, year
after year. What does the heat, and the danger, and
the work do to them? Maybe they 'get used to' the
whole business. Will I?"
I went to bed at 8.05, and all impressions faded
from consciousness, except weariness, and lame arms,
and a burn on each ankle.
After two or three days in the pit, I began to know
the gang a little by name and character. There was
Marco, a young Croat of twenty-four, who had start-
ed to teach me Croatian in return for some necessary
American; Fritz, a German with the Wanderlust;
Adam, an aristocratic person, very mature, and with
branching moustachios; Peter, a Russian of infinite
good-nature; and a quiet-eyed Pole, who was saving
up two hundred dollars to go to the old country.
MOLTEN STEEL AN INITIATION 27
For several days it was impossible to break into
Adam's circle of friends; he would talk and work only
with veteran clean-ups, and showed immense pom-
posity in a knowing way of hooking up slag and scrap
to the crane. One day, however, I found him work-
ing alone with a wheelbarrow, cleaning cinder from
around a buggy car under furnace No. 8. He looked
over at me as I passed, and yelled: "Hey, you!"
He wanted my assistance on the wheelbarrow. We
worked together for an hour or so, and' I felt that
perhaps the ice was broken.
"Did you ever work on the floor?" I asked.
:< Two years," he said; "no good."
A little later I talked to Marco about him.
"Hell," he said, "he got fired from furnace, for too
goddam lazy." I felt less hurt at his snobbishness
Marco and I became good chums. We sat on a
wheelbarrow one day, after finishing a job on the
track under Six.
^You teach me American," he said; "I teach you
"Damn right," I said; and we began on the parts
of our body, and the clothing we wore, drawing out
some of the words in the dirt with a stick, or mark-
ing them with charcoal on a board.
"Did you ever go to school in America?" I asked.
* Three month, night school, Pittsburgh. Too
much, work all day, twelve hour, go to school night, 3
"Do you save any money? Got any in the bank?"
I asked, feeling a little fatherly, and wondering on
the state of his economic virtues.
"Hell, no," he said; "I don' want money in bank,
jes nuff get along on."
I talked to a good many on the savings question,
and found the young men very often did n't save, but
" bummed round," while practically all the " Hunkies "
of twenty-eight or thirty and over saved very success-
fully. A German who put scrap in the charge-boxes,
after the magnet had dropped it, had saved 34000 and
invested it. One man said to me: "A good job, save
money, work all time, go home, sleep, no spend."
Speaking of the German, "He no drink, no spend."
The savers, I think, are apt to be the single men who
return to their own country in ten or fifteen years.
I came out of the mill one morning after a night-
shift, with an appetite that made me run from the rail-
road bridge to Main Street. I went to the Hotel
Bouton, where the second-helper on Eight usually
eats, and started at the beginning, with pears. I ate
the cereal, eggs, potatoes, toast, coffee, and griddle-
cakes, taking seconds and thirds when I could nego-
tiate them the Bouton is stingy under a new man-
agement, probably finding that steel-workers eat up
the profit. I got up from the table feeling as hungry
as when I sat down, and went to the restaurant just
two doors below unpalatable, but serving fairly
large portions. There I had another breakfast: coffee,
oatmeal, eggs. I felt decidedly better after that, and
started home in good humor. But by the time I
MOLTEN STEEL AN INITIATION 29
reached the window of Tom, the Wiener man, I felt
that there was room for improvement, and looked in
my pocketbook to see if I had any breakfast money
left. I had n't a cent, but there were quantities of
two-cent stamps. I went in and sat down at Tom's
counter, where I ate a bowl of cereal and a glass of
milk. Then I opened my purse. In a moment or two
I convinced Tom that two-cent stamps were good
legal tender, and went home.
THE OPEN-HEARTH NIGHT-SHIFTS
"HAVE a cigarette, Pete," I said, offering a Camel
to a very fat and boyish-looking Russian.
"What, no smoke?" I asked, incredulous.
"No, no smoke."
"No drink?" I asked, wondering if I had found a
"Oh, drink" he said with profound emphasis; and
continuing, he told me of other solaces he found in
this mortal life.
"Look!" cried some one.
Herb, the craneman, in a fit of extreme playfulness
had thrown some wet green paint forty feet through
the air at the pit boss, greening the whole side of his
face. Al was doing a long backward dodge, and slap-
ping a hand to his painted face, supposing it a draught
of hot metal. When he perceived that he was n't
killed, he picked up cinder-hunks and bombarded the
crane-box. It sounded like hail on tin.
Pete, the Russian melter, came out on the gallery
behind the furnaces, and I could see by the way he
looked the pit over, that he was picking a man for
furnace work. Somebody had stayed out and they
were short a helper. He looked at the fat workman
beside me, and then grunted.
THE OPEN-HEARTH 31
This was the third time he had picked Russians in
preference to the rest of us, who are Serbian, Austrian,
The next day I went on the floor, and tackled Pete.
"How about a chance on the floor?" I said, stand-
ing in front of him to keep him from lurching away.
C Y' get chance 'miff, don' worry."
"If I can't get a crack at learning this game in
Bouton, I '11 go somewhere I can," I said, boiling up
Dick Reber, the Pennsylvania-Dutch melter, came
"I want a chance on the floor," I said.
"All right, boy, go on Number 7 to-day."
I made all speed to Number 7. "Is he doing that,"
I thought, as I picked up my shovel, "because I'm
an American? "
I looked up and saw the big ladle-bucket pouring
hot metal into a spout in the furnace-door, accom-
panied by a great swirl of sparks and flame, spurting
upward with a sizzle.
"At last," I said, "I 'm going to make steel."
The steel starts in as "scrap" in the mill-yard.
Scrap from anywhere in America; a broken casting,
the size of a man's trunk, down to corroded pipe, or
strips the thickness of your nail, salvaged in bales.
The overhead crane gathers them all from arriving
flat cars by a magnet as big as a cart wheel, and the
pieces of steel leap to meet it with apparent joy, stick
stoutly for a moment, and fall released into iron
charge-boxes. By trainloads they pass out of the stock-
yard and into the mill, where the track runs directly
in front of the furnace-doors. There the charging-
machine dumps them quickly into the belly of the
furnace. It does its work with a single iron finger,
about ten feet long and nearly a foot thick, lifting
the box by a cleat on the end, and poking it swiftly
into the flaming door. Old furnaces charged by hand
hold from twenty-five to thirty-five tons; new ones,
up to two hundred and fifty.
That is the first step in starting to make a "heat,"
which means cook a bellyful to the proper temper-
ature for steel, ready to tap into a ladle for ingot-
making. Next comes "making front-wall," which signi-
fies that no self-respecting brick, clay, or any other
substance, can stand a load of metal up to steel-heat
without being temporarily relined right away for the
next draft of flame. We do that relining by shovel-
ing dolomite into the furnace. The official known as
second-helper wields a Brobdingnag spoon, about
two inches larger than a dinner-plate and fifteen feet
long, which a couple of third-helpers, among them
myself, fill with dolomite. By use of the spoon, he
carefully spreads the protection over the front-wall.
But the sporting job on the open-hearth comes a
bit later, and consists in "making back-wall." Then
all the men on the furnace and all the men on your
neighbor's furnace form a dolomite line, and march-
ing in file to the open door, fling their shovelfuls
across the flaming void to the back-wall. It's not
a beginner's job. You must swing your weapon
THE OPEN-HEARTH 33 ,
through a wide arc, to give it "wing," and the stuff
must hop off just behind the furnace-door and rise
high enough to top the scrap between, and land high.
I say it's not a beginner's job, though it 's like golf
the first shovelful may be a winner. What lends life
to the sport is the fact that everybody J s in it
it's the team play of the open-hearth, like a house-
raising in the community.
Another thing giving life is the heat. The mouth of
the furnace gapes it widest, and you must hug close
in order to get the stuff across. Every man has deeply
smoked glasses on his nose when he faces the furnace.
He's got to stare down her throat, to watch where the
dolomite lands. It's up to him to place his stuff
the line is n't marching through the heat to warm its
hands. Here's a tip I didn't "savvy" on my first
back-wall. Throw your left arm high at the end of
your arc, and in front of your face; it will cut the heat
an instant, and allow you to see if you have "placed"
without flinching. It's really not brawn, making
back-wall, but a nimble swing and a good eye,
and the art of not minding heat.
After that is done, she can cook for a while and
needs only watching. The first-helper gives her that,
passing up and down every few minutes to look
through the peepholes in her furnace-doors. He puts
his glasses down on his nose, inspects the brew, and
notices if her stomach's in good shape. If the bricks
get as red as the gas flame, she's burning the living
lining out of her. But he keeps the gas blowing in her
ends, as hot as she'll stand it without a holler. On
either end the gas, and on top of it the air. The first-
helper, who is cook of the furnace, makes a proper
mixture out of them. The hotter he can let the gas
through, the quicker the brew is cooked, and the more
"tonnage" he'll make that week.
"Get me thirty thousand pounds," said the first-
helper when I was on the furnace that first night.
Fifteen tons of molten metal! I was undecided
whether to bring it in a dipper or in my hat. But it 's
no more than running upstairs for a handkerchief in
the bureau. You climb to a platform near the blower,
where the stuif is made, and find a man there with a
book. Punch him in the arm and say, "Thirty thou'
for Number 7. " He will swear moderately and blow
a whistle. You return to the furnace, and on your
heels follows a locomotive dragging a bucket, the ladle,
ten feet high. Out of it arise the fumes of your fifteen
tons of hot metal. The overhead crane picks it up and
pours it through a spout into the furnace. As it goes
in, you stand and direct the pouring. The craneman,
as he tilts or raises the bucket, watches you for direc-
tions, and you stand and make gentle motions with
one hand, thus easily and simply controlling the flux
of the fifteen tons. That part of the job always
pleased me. It was like modeling Niagara with a
wave of the hand. Sometimes he spills a little, and
there is a vortex of sparks, and much molten metal
in front of the door to step on.
She cooks in anywhere from ten hours to twenty-
four. The record on this floor is ten, which was put
THE OPEN-HEARTH 35
over by Jock. He has worked on most of the open-
hearths, I learn, from Scotland to Colorado.
When it's time for a test, the first-helper will take a
spoon about the size of your hand and scoop up some
of the soup. But not to taste. He pours it into a
mould, and when the little ingot is cool, breaks it with
a sledge. Everyone on the furnace, barring myself,
looks at the broken metal and gives a wise smile. I 'm
not enough of a cook. They know by the grain if she
has too much carbon or needs more, or is ready to
tap, or is n't. With too much carbon, she '11 need a
"jigger," which is a few more tons of hot metal, to
thin her out.
That 's about the whole game abbreviated up
to tap-time. It takes, on an average, eighteen hours,
and your shift may be anything from ten to twenty-
four. Of course, there are details, like shoveling in
fluor-spar to thin out the slag. Be sure you clear the
breast of the furnace, with your shovelful, when you
put that into her. Spar eats the dolomite as mice eat
At intervals the first-helper tilts the whole furnace
forward, and she runs out at the doors, which is to
drain off the slag that floats on top of the brew. But
after much weariness it's tap-time and the "big boss"
comes to supervise.
Move aside the shutters covering the round peep-
holes on her doors, at this time, and you '11 see the
brew bubbling away like malt breakfast-food ready to
eat. But there's a lot of testing before serving. When
it is ready, you run to the place where you hid your
little flat manganese shovel and take it to the gallery
back of the furnace, near the tap-spout. There you
can look down on the pit strewn with those giant
bucket-ladles and sprinkled with the clean-up men,
who gather painfully all that's spilled or slobbered of
hot metal, and save it for a second melting. The
whole is swept by the omnipresent crane.
At a proper and chosen instant, the senior melter
shouts, "Heow!" and the great furnace rolls on its
side on a pair of mammoth rockers, and points a clay
spout into the ladle held for it by the crane. Before
the hot soup comes rushing, the second-helper has to
"ravel her out." That function of his almost de-
stroyed my ambition .to learn the steel business.
Raveling is poking a pointed rod up the tap-spout,
till the stopping is prodded away. You never know
when the desired but terrific result is accomplished.
When it is, he retires as you would from an explod-
ing oil-well. The brew is loose. It comes out, red and
hurling flame. Into the ladle it falls with a hiss and a
terrifying "splunch." The first and second helpers
immediately make matters worse. They stagger up
with bags (containing fine anthracite) and drop them
into the mess. They have a most damning effect.
The flames hit the roof of the pit, and sway and curl
angrily along the frail platform on which you stand.
Some occult reasoning tells them how many of these
bags to drop in, whether to make a conflagration or
a moderate house-burning.
The melter waits a few minutes and then shouts
THE OPEN-HEARTH 37
your cue. You and another helper run swiftly along
the gallery to the side of the spout. At your feet is a
pile of manganese, one of the heaviest substances in
the world, and seeming heavier than that. It's your
job and your helper's to put the pile into the cauldron.
And you do it with all manner of speed. The tap
stream at steel heat is three feet from your face,
and gas and sparks come up as the stream hits the
ladle. You're expected to get it in fast. You do.
There are almost always two ladles to fill, but you
have a "spell" between. When she's tapped, you
pick up a piece of sheet iron and cover the spout with
it. That 's another job to warm frost-bitten fingers.
Use gloves and wet burlap it preserves the hands
for future use.
One more step, and the brew is an ingot. There are
several tracks entering the pit, and at proper seasons
a train of cars swings in, bringing the upright ingot
moulds. They stand about seven feet high from their
flats. When the ladle is full and slobbering a bit, the
craneman swings her gingerly over the first mould.
Level with the ladle's base, and above the train of
moulds, runs the pouring platform, on which the
By means of rods a stopper is released from a small
hole in the bottom of the ladle. In a few seconds the
stream fills a mould, and the attendant shuts off the
steel like a boy at a spigot. The ladle swings gently
down the line, and the proper measure of metallic
flame squirts into each mould. A trainload of steel
is poured in a few minutes.
But this is when all omens are propitious. It 's when
the stopper-man has made no mistakes. But when
rods jam and the stopper won't stop, watch your step,
and cover your face. That fierce. little stream keeps
coming, and nothing that the desperate men on the
pouring platform can do seems likely to stem it. Soon
one mould is full. But the ladle continues to pour, with
twenty tons of steel to go. It can't be allowed to make
a steel floor for the pit. It must get into those moulds.
So the craneman swings her on to the next mould,
with the stream aspurt. It 's like taking water from
the teakettle to the sink with a punctured dipper:
half goes on the kitchen floor. But the spattering of
molten metal is much more exciting. A few little clots
affect the flesh like hot bullets. So, when the crane-
man gets ready to swing the little stream down the
line, the workers on the platform behave like fright-
ened fishes in a mill pond. Then, while the mould fills,
they come back, to throw certain ingredients into the
These ingots, when they come from the moulds
virgin steel, are impressive things especially on the
night turn. Then each stands up against the night air
like a massive monument of hardened fire. Pass near
them, and see what colossal radiators of heat they
are. Trainloads of them pass daily out of the pit to
the blooming-mill* to catch their first transformation.
But my spell with them is done.
I stood behind the furnace near the spout, which
still spread a wave of heat about it, and Nick, the
THE OPEN-HEARTH 39
second-helper, beside me yelling things in Anglo-
Serbian, into my face. He was a loose-limbed, sallow-
faced Serbian, with black hair under a green-visored
cap, always on the back of his head. His shirt was
torn on both sleeves and open nearly to his waist,
and in the uncertain lights of the mill his chest and ab-
domen shone with sweat.
"Goddam you, what you think. Get me" a long
blur of Serbian, here "spout, quick mak a"
more Serbian with tremendous volume of voice
"furnace, see? You get that goddam mud!"
When a man says that to you with profound emo-
tion, it seems insulting, to say, "What" to it. But that
was what I did.
"All right, all right," he said; "what the hell, me
get myself, all the work" blurred here "son of
a third-helper wheelbarrow, why don ' you
quick now when I say /"
"All right, all right, I'll do it," I said, and went
away. I was never in my life so much impressed with
the necessity of doing it. His language and gesture had
been profoundly expressive of what? I tried to con-
centrate on the phrases that seeped through emotion
and Serbian into English. "Wheelbarrow" hang
on to that; "mud" that's easy: a wheelbarrow of
mud. Good !
I got it at the other end of the mill opposite
"Hey! don't use that shovel for mud!" said the
second-helper on Number 4.
So I did n't.
I wheeled back to the gallery behind Seven, and
found Nick coming out at me. When he saw that
hard-won mud of mine, I thought he was going to
snap the cords in his throat.
" Goddam it! " he said, when articulation returned,
"I tell you, get wheelbarrow dolomite, and half-
wheelbarrow clay, and pail of water, and look what
you bring, goddam it!"
So that was it he probably said pail of water
with his feet.
"Oh, all right," I said, smiling like a skull; "I
thought you said mud. I '11 get it, I '11 get it."
This is amusing enough on the first day; you can go
off and laugh in a superior way to yourself about the
queer words the foreigners use. But after seven days
of it, fourteen hours each, it gets under the skin, it
burns along the nerves, as the furnace heat burns
along the arms when you make back-wall. It suddenly
occurred to me one day, after someone had bawled me
out picturesquely for not knowing where something
was that I had never heard of, that this was what
every immigrant Hunky endured; it was a matter of
language largely, of understanding, of knowing the
names of things, the uses of things, the language of
the boss. Here was this Serbian second-helper boss-
ing his third-helper largely in an unknown tongue,
and the latter getting the full emotional experience
of the immigrant. I thought of Bill, the pit boss, tell-
ing a Hunky to do a clean-up job for him; and when
the Hunky said, "What? " he turned to me and said:
"Lord! but these Hunkies are dumb."
THE OPEN-HEARTH 41
Most of the false starts, waste motion, misunder-
standings, fights, burnings, accidents, nerve-wrack,
and desperation of soul would fall away if there were
understanding a common language, of mind as well
But then, I thought, all this may be because I'm
oversensitive. I had this qualm till one day I met
Jack. He was an old regular-army sergeant, a man
about thirty. He had come back from fixing a bad
spout. They had sledged it out sledged through
the steel that had crept into the dolomite and closed
"Do you ever feel low?" he said, sitting down on
the back of a shovel. "Every once'n while I feel like
telling 'em to take their job and go to hell with it;
you strain your guts out, and then they swear at
"I sometimes feel like a worm," I said, "with no
right to be living any way, or so mad I want to lick
the bosses and the president."
"If you were first-helper, it would n't be so bad,"
he mused; "you would n't have to bring up that
damn manganese in a wheelbarrow and they
would n't kick you round so much." "Will I ever get
We were washing up at one end of the mill, near
the Bessemers. There was plenty of hot water, and
good broad sinks. I took off my shirt and threw it on
top of a locker; the cinder on the front and sleeves
had become mud.
Forty men stood up to the sinks, also with their shirts
off, their arms and faces and bodies covered with soap,
and saying: "Ah, ooh," and "ffu," with the other
noises a man makes when getting clean. Every now
and then somebody would look into a three-cornered
fragment of looking-glass on one of the lockers, and
return to apply soap and a scrubbing-brush to the
bridge of his nose.
A group of Slovene boys, who worked on the Bes-
semer, picked on one of their number, and covered
him with soap and American oaths. Somebody told
an obscene story loudly in broken English.
The men who had had a long turn or a hard one
washed up silently, except for excessive outbreaks if
anybody took their soap. Some few hurried, and left
grease or soot on their hands or under their eyes.
"I wash up a little here," said Fred, the American
first-helper on Number 7, " and the rest at home. Once
after a twenty-four hour shift, I fell asleep in the bath-
tub, and woke up to find the water cold. Of course,
you can 't really get this stuff off in one or two wash-
ups. It gets under your skin. When the furnace used
to get down for repairs, and we were laid off, I 'd be
clean at the end of a week." He laughed and went off.
I had scraped most of the soot from arms and chest,
and was struggling desperately with the small of my
back. A thick-chested workman at the next bowl, with
fringes of gray hair, and a scar on his cheek, grabbed
the brush out of my hand.
"Me show you how we do in coal-mine," he said;
and proceeded vigorously to grind the bristles into
THE OPEN-HEARTH 43
my back, and get up a tremendous lather, that dripped
down on my trousers to the floor.
"You wash your buddy's back, buddy wash yours,"
I went out of the open-hearth shelter slowly, and
watched the line nearly a quarter of a mile long
of swinging dinner-buckets. Some were large and
round, and had a place on top for coffee; some were
circular and long; some were flat and square. I looked
at the men. They were the day-shift coming in.
"I have finished," I said to myself automatically.
"I'm going to eat and go to bed. I don't have to
I looked at the men again. Most of them were
hurrying; their faces carried yesterday's fatigue and
last year's. Now and then I saw a man who looked as
if he could work the turn and then box a little in the
evening for exercise. There were a few men like that.
The rest made me think strongly of a man holding
himself from falling over a cliff, with fingers that
I stepped on a stone and felt the place on my heel
where the limestone and sweat had worked together,
to make a burn. I 'd be hurrying in at 5.00 o'clock that
day, and they 'd be going home. It was now 7.20.
That would be nine and a half hours hence. I had
to eat twice, and buy a pair of gloves, and sew up
my shirt, and get sleep before then. I lived twenty
minutes from the mill. If I walk home, as fast as
I can drive my legs and bolt breakfast, seven hours is
all I can work in before 3.30. I '11 have to get up then
to get time for dinner, fixing up my shirt, and the walk
to the mill.
I wonder how long this night-shift of gray-faced
men, with different-sized dinner-buckets, will be mov-
ing out toward the green gate, and the day-shift com-
ing in at the green gate how many years ?
The car up from the nail mill stopped just before it
dove under the railroad bridge.
"I'm in luck."
I suddenly had a vision of how the New York sub-
way looked: its crush, its noise, its overdressed Jews,
its speed, its subway smell. I looked around inside
the clattering trolley-car. Nobody was talking. The
car was filled for the most part with Slavs, a few
Italians, and some negroes from the nail mill. Every-
one, except two old men of unknown age, was under
thirty-five. They held their buckets on their laps, or
put them on the floor between their legs. Six or eight
were asleep. The rest sat quiet, with legs and neck
loose, with their eyes open, steady, dull, fixed upon
nothing at all.
I CAME into the mill five minutes late one morn-
ing, and went to the green check-house at the gate,
to pick 1611, the numerical me, from the hook. A
stumpy man in a chair looked up and said: "What
I gave it. "An easy way to lose forty-three cents,"
I thought, feeling a little sore at the stumpy man, and
going out through the door slowly.
I increased my step along the road to the open-
hearth, and reached my locker just as the Pole who
shared it was leaving.
"Goddam gloves! " he was saying. "Pay thirty-five
cents three days goddam it all gone too
much. What you think?"
"I think the leather ones at fifty cents last better,"
He made a guttural noise, signifying disgust, and
I opened the locker, and disentangled my working-
clothes, still damp from the last shift, from the Pole's.
I removed all my "good" clothes, and stood for a
minute naked and comfortable. The thermometer
had registered 95 when I got up, at 4.00.
For the past few days I had been demoted to the pit;
there had been no jobs open on the floor. As I took
up my gloves and smoked glasses, I wondered how I
could get back to furnace work.
Pete was moving with his lurching short steps past
"How about helping to-day on the floor?" I said.
He snapped back quickly in his blurred voice,
"You work th' pit, tell y' goddam quick, want y'
on the floor."
I looked back at him, swore to myself, and went
slowly down the pit stairs.
I could n't find the gang at first, but later found
half of them: Peter the Russian, the short Wop, the
Aristocrat, and a couple more, all under furnace
Eight, cleaning out cinder. The Aristocrat was trying
to get the craneman to bring up one of the long boxes
with curved bottoms for slag. The craneman was damn-
ing him. There was one too many at the job, four
is enough to clean cinder, so I threw a bit of slag
at Peter (for old time's sake) and passed on.
I met Al, and said, "Where are they working?"
"Clean up the pipes," he said.
The Croat, Marco, Joe, and Fritz were at Number
6, with forks. You see, the pipes run up the ladle's
side and release a stopper for pouring the steel. They
are covered with fire clay, which is destroyed after
one or two ladlings and has to be knocked off and re-
placed. We loosened the clay with sledges, and Marco
watered down the pipes with a hose, to cool them.
They were moderately warm when Fritz and I started
piling them on the truck. Once or twice the pipe
EVERYDAY LIFE 47
touched Fritz's hand through a hole in his glove, and
he yowled, and then laughed. Once or twice I yowled
and laughed also.
When we piled near the top, we swung in unison,
and tossed the pipe into the air. It was like piling
I caught a torn piece of my pants on a sharp bit
of slag while carrying two pipes, and acquired a rip
halfway from pocket to knee. Marco had a safety pin
for me at once; he kept emergency ones in his shirt-
We finished the job in half an hour, and pushed the
truck till it came under jurisdiction of a crane. Marco
fixed the hooks rather officiously, pushing Fritz and
me aside. There is, I suppose, more snobbishness in-
duced by the manner of crane-hooking than in any
other pit function. The crane swung the pipes on
holders and dropped them in front of the blacksmith
shop. We carried them into the shop, Marco and I
working together. Inside there were half a dozen
small forges, some benches, and a drop hammer. It
was the place where ladles and spoons were repaired.
The blacksmiths and helpers gave us friendly, but
As we walked back, we saw the crane swing a ladle
from the moulds into which it had been pouring to-
ward the dumping pit in front of Five. When the
giant bucket approached, the chain hooked to the
bottom lifted slowly, and dregs half-steel, half-ash,
rolled out into the dump. After a little cooling, we
would clean up there. With the chain released, the
bucket righted itself with a shuddering clank, and
swayed in the air scattering bits of slag and burnt fire
A little later, we did a three-hour job on those dregs.
We loosened the slag with picks first, and then lifted
forkfuls and shovelfuls into the crane-carried boxes.
A good deal of scrap was in the lot, probably the mak-
ings of half a ton 'of steel. This, of course., went into a
separate box. I hooked up a couple of big scrap-hunks,
weighing perhaps 500 pounds each, and took some
sport out of it. That is one small matter, at least,
where a grain of judgment and ingenuity has place. A
badly hooked scrap-hunk may fall and break a neck, or
simply tumble and waste everybody's time. Loosen-
ing up with the pick, too, demands a slight knack and
smacks faintly of the miner's skill. We had to go
down into a pit, where there was heated slag on all
sides, using boards to save scorching our shoe leather.
In turning up fractures eight or ten inches thick, there
would be an inner four inches still red-hot.
At eleven o'clock, I was working at a fair pace,
flinging moderately husky forkfuls over a ten-foot
space into the box, when Marco looked up.
"Hey," he called.
I glanced at him for a moment. He was smiling.
"Rest yourself," he said; "we work hard when de big
During the next fifty shovelfuls, the remark went
the rounds of my head, trying to get condemned. My
memory threw up articles in the "Quarterly Journal
of Economics," with "inefficiency and the labor-
EVERYDAY LIFE 49
slackers," and "moral irresponsibility of the worker
on the job," and so forth, in them. A couple of ser-
mons and a vista of editorial denunciations of the
laboring man who is no longer willing to do "an hon-
est day's work for an honest day's pay," seemed to
bring additional pressure for righteors indignation.
I asked the following questions of myself, one for every
two forkfuls :
"Is n't it morally a bad thing to soldier, anyway?
"Is Marco a moral enormity?
"Do business men soldier?
"Is n't 'Get to hell out of here if you don't want to
work ' the answer ? Or has the twelve-hour day some-
thing to do with it?
"Can these five or six thousand unskilled workmen
take any interest in their work, or must they go at it
with a consciousness similar to that of the slaves who
put up the Pyramids? "
I had to use the pick at this point, which broke up
the inquiry, and I left the questions unanswered.
I saw wheelbarrowing ahead for the afternoon, and
corralled the only one properly balanced, when I
started work at 1.00 p. M., keeping it near me during a
scrap-picking hour, until the job should break. At
2.15, it did. Al said: "Get over and clean out under
Seven. If we can ever get this goddam stuff cleaned
out - That was an optimism of Al's.
One of the new men and I worked together all after-
noon : pick at the slag, shovel, wheelbarrow, dump in
the box, hook up to crane. Start over. There was a
lot of dolomite and old fine cinder, very dusty, but not
hot. This change in discomfort furnished a sensation
almost pleasurable. I found out that everyone hid
his shovel at the end of the shift, beside piles of brick
in the cellar of the mill, under dark stairways, and
so forth. I had n't yet acquired one, but used most-
ly a fork, which is n't so personal an instrument, and
of which there seemed to be a common supply. I felt
keen to "acquire" though.
After supper, I wrote in my diary and thought a
bit before going to bed. There 's a genuine technique
of the shovel, the pick, and especially of the wheel-
barrow, I thought. That damn plank from the ground
to the cinder-box! It takes all I can muster to teeter
the wheelbarrow up, dump without losing the thing
quite, and bring it down backward without barking
my shins. There 's a bit of technique, too, in pairing
off properly for a job, selecting your lick of work
promptly and not getting left jobless to the eyes of
the boss, capturing your shovel and hiding it at the
end of the turn, keeping the good will of the men
you 're with on team-work, distinguishing scrap from
cinder and putting them into the proper boxes, not
digging for slag too deeply in the pit floor, and so
forth and so on.
I wonder if I shall learn Serbian, or Russian, or
Hungarian ? There seems to be a Slavic polyglot that
any one of a half-dozen nationalities understands.
That word, "Tchekai! Watch out!" even the
Americans use it. It's a word that is crying in your
EVERYDAY LIFE 51
ears all night. Watch out for the crane that is taking
a ladle of hot metal over your head, or a load of scrap,
or a bundle of pipes; watch out for the hot cinder
coming down the hole from the furnace-doors; watch
out for "me" while I get this wheelbarrow by; and
"Heow! Tchekai!" for the trainload of hot ingots
that passes your shoulder.
I set my alarm for five o'clock, and got into bed
with the good-night thought of "The devil with Pete
Grayson! I'll get on that furnace!"
Another day went by, hewing cinders in the pit. I
tried to figure to myself persuasive or threatening
things I could say to the melters, to let me work on
the floor. A shrewd-looking little man with mousta-
chios worked near me.
"Did you ever work on the floor? " I asked.
"Oh, yes," he said: "too much hot; to hell with the
They pay you two cents more an hour on the floor.
At twenty minutes to five I went upstairs to my
locker. Dick Reber, senior melter, stopped me.
"Need a man to-night; want to work?" he said;
"always short, you know, on this long turn."
"Sure," I said.
That was one way to get promoted, I thought, and
wondered how I 'd stand fourteen more hours on top
of the ten I had had.
"Beat it," yelled the melter.
Jack and I got our flat manganese shovels, and
went on the run to the gallery. We were tapping at
last. This furnaceful had cooked twenty-two hours.
Nick was kneeling on water-soaked bagging, on the
edge of the hot spout. He dug out the mud in the tap-
hole with a pointed rod and sputtered oaths at the
heat. Every few minutes the spout would burn
through the bagging to his knees. He would get up,
refold the bagging, and kneel again to the job.
Finally the metal gurgled out, a small stream the
size of two fingers. Nick dodged back, and it swelled
to a six-inch torrent.
Pete Grayson had come out, and was bawling some-
thing very urgently at the pit crane. The ladle swung
closer; we could feel the increased wave of heat.
He looked over at us and held up two fingers. That
meant both piles of manganese that lay on the gallery
next the crane were to be shoveled in double time
for us, in the heat.
"Heow!" yelled the melter.
Jack and I leaped forward to the manganese, and
our shovels scraped on the iron gallery. I saw Jack
slapping his head to put out a little fire that had
started on the handkerchief wound round his neck.
I slapped a few sparks that stung my right leg. We
finished half the pile.
There was something queer about this heat. The
soles of my feet why in hell should the gallery burn
so! There was a blazing gas in the air my nostrils
seemed to flame as they took it in. This was different
from most manganese shoveling. My face glowed all
EVERYDAY LIFE 53
over in single concentrated pain. What was it? I saw
Jack shoveling wildly in the middle of that second
pile. We finished it in a panic.
"What was the matter with that damn ladle?" I
asked as we got our breath in the opening between the
" Spout had a goddam hole in the middle," he said;
"ladle underneath, see?' 3
I did. The fire-clay of the spout had given way, and
a hole forming in the middle let the metal through.
That made it necessary, in order to catch the steel, to
bring the ladle close, till part of it was under the plat-
form on which we worked. The heat and gas from the
hot steel in the ladle had been warming the soles of
our feet, and rising into our faces.
"Here's a funny thing," I said, looking down. One
of the sparks which had struck my pants burned
around, very neatly taking off the cuff and an inch or
two of the pant-leg. The thing might have been done
with a pair of shears.
I came out of the mill whistling and feeling pretty
much "on the crest." I'd worked their damn "long
turn," and stood it. It was n't so bad, all except that
ladle that got under the manganese. I ate a huge
breakfast, with a calm sense of virtue rewarded, and
climbed into bed with a smile on my lips.
The alarm clock had been ringing several minutes
before I realized what it was up to. I turned over to
shut it off, and found needles running into all the
muscles of my back. I struggled up on an elbow. I
had a "hell of a head." The alarm was still going.
I fought myself out of bed and shut it off; stood up
and tried to think. Pretty soon a thought came over
me like an ache : it was " Fourteen hours! " That was
beginning in fifty-five minutes fourteen hours of
back-walls, and hot ladles, and Oh, hell! I sat
down again on the bed, and prepared to lift my feet
Then I got up, and washed fiercely, threw on my
clothes, and went downstairs, and out into the after-
Down by the restaurant, I met the third-helper on
"Long turn would n't be so bad, if there were n't
no next day," he said, with a sort of smile.
In the mill was a gang of malignant men; things all
went wrong; everybody was angry and tired; their
nerves made mistakes for them.
"I only wish it were next Sunday!" I said to
"There are n't any goddam Sundays in this place,"
he returned. "Twenty-four hours off between two
working days ain't Sunday."
I thought that over. The company says they give
you one day off every two weeks. But it's not like a
day off anywhere else. It's twenty-four hours sand-
wiched between two work-days. You finish your
night-week at 7.00 Sunday morning, having just
done a week of one twenty-four hour shift, and six
fourteens. You've got all the time from then till the
next morning! Hurrah! How will you use it? If you
do the normal thing, eat breakfast, and go to bed
EVERYDAY LIFE 55
for eight hours, that brings you to 5.00 o'clock.
Will you stay up all night? you've had your sleep.
Yes, but there's a ten-hour turn coming at 7.00.
You go to bed at 11.00, to sleep up for your turn.
There's an evening-out of it! Hurrah again! But
who in hell does the normal thing ? Either you go on a
tear for twenty-four hours, you only have it twice
a month, or you sleep the twenty-four, if the week 's
been a bad one. Or and this is common in Bouton
- you get sore at the system and stay away a week
if you can afford it.
"Hey, you, get me a jigger, quick. Ten thouV
"All right," I said, and shut off my mind for the
I usually had bad words and bad looks from
"Shorty." Jack calls him "that dirty Wop." Late
one afternoon he produced a knife and fingered it
suggestively while he talked. So I always watched
him with all the eyes I had.
One day we had shoveled in manganese together
over a hot ladle, and I noticed that he was in a bad
mood. We finished and leaned against the rail.
"Six days more," he said very quietly.
I looked up, surprised at his voice.
"What do you mean?"
"Six days more, this week, me quit this goddam
"What's the matter?"
"Oh,- -me lose thirteen pound this job, what
"What job will you get now? "
"I don't know, I don't know; any damn job better
than this," he said very bitterly.
Having adopted the quitting idea, these six days
were too much to endure. A little later, Jock was
ready to make front-wall. He saw Shorty and said,
"Get me that hook and spoon."
Shorty stood and looked at Jock, with the utmost
malignity in his face, and said finally, "Get your god-
dam hook and spoon yourself."
Jock was greatly surprised, and returned, "Who the
hell are you ? "
Shorty snapped instantly, "Who the hell are you ? "
And then he was fired.
This is the second "quitting mad" I Ve seen. The
feeling seems to be something like the irrepressible
desire that gets piled up sometimes in the ranks of the
army to "tell 'em to go to hell" and take the conse-
quences. It's the result of accumulated poisons of
overfatigue, long hours, overwrought nerves, "the
military discipline of the mills."
The practical advantage of being "given the hook"
is that you can draw your pay immediately; whereas,
if you simply leave, you have to wait for the end of the
two weeks' period.
I ate my dinner at the Greek's.
"Make me some tea that's hot, George. This
was n't. Oh, and a double bowl of shredded; I Ve got
a hole to fill up."
George kept the best of the four Greek restaurants.
It had a certain variety. It splurged into potato salad,
EVERYDAY LIFE 57
and a few other kinds, and went into omelets that
were very acceptable. The others confined themselves
to fried things, with a few cereals and skimmed milk.
I looked up from my shredded wheat. George was
wiping up a rill of gravy and milk from the porcelain
table, and a man was getting ready to sit down op-
posite. It was Herb, the pit craneman.
"Always feed here? " he asked.
"Yes," I said, "best place in town, is n't it?"
"How big is Bouton? how many people has it?" I
He grinned slowly, and put his elbows on the table.
He was a Pennsylvania Dutchman, with worry set-
tling over good nature in a square face.
'Twenty thousand," he said.
"It seems small for twenty thousand," I returned;
" like a little village. There 's really only one store,
is n't there, the company store, where they keep
anything? Only one empty newspaper, no theatre,
unless you count that one-story movie place, no
"A one-man town," he said, quickly. "Nearly
every house in town is owned by Mr. Burnham. Now
look here, suppose a man works like hell to fix things
up, to work around and get a pretty damn good
garden, puts a lot of money into making his house
right. Suppose he does, and then gets into a scrap
with his boss. What can he do? The company owns
his house, the company owns every other damn thing
in town. He 's got to beat it *- all his work shot
to hell. That's why nobody does anything. Hey,
ham and Where you workin' now ? Ain't seen yer
in the pit."
"I 'm on the floor, helpin' on Number 7."
At last, Saturday night. Everyone felt Sunday
coming, with twenty-four hours of drunkenness or
sleep alluringly ahead. The other shift had tapped the
furnace at three o'clock. We might not tap again, and
that was nice to think about. A front-wall and a hot
back-wall we went through as if it were better fun
"Look out for me, I've got the de'il in me," from
Jock, Scotch First on Number 8. I looked up, and the
crazy fool had a spoon they weigh over a hundred
between his legs, dragging it like a kid with a
broomstick. As it bounced on the broken brick floor,
he yelled like a man after a Hun.
"Who's the maun amang ye, can lick a Scotch-
man?" he cried, dropping the spoon to the floor.
" Is this the best stuff you can show on Number 8 ? "
said Fred slowly. He dived for Jock's waist, and drew
it to him, though the Scotchman tried to break his
grip with one of his hands and with the other thrust
off his opponent's face. When Fred had him tight, he
caught one of Jock's straying arms, bent it slowly be-
hind his back, and contrived a hammerlock.
;< You 're no gentlemen," in pain; "you 're inter-
ruptin' my work."
Fred relaxed, and Jock jumped away.
EVERYDAY LIFE 59
"Come over to a good furnace, goddam it, and
fight it out! " he yelled, from a distance that protect-
ed his words.
The charging-machine, in its perpetual machine-
tremolo, shook past and stopped. George slid down
from his seat, and came over to Number 8's gang.
"Well, Fred, how in hell's the world usin' yer?"
"Ask me that to-morrow."
"Well, guys, good night; I'm dead for forty
He picked up a board some six feet long and about
six inches in width. He laid himself carefully on it,
and was sleeping inside of a minute.
I looked at him enviously for a few minutes. Sud-
denly it occurred to me that the board lay over a slit
in the floor. It was the opening through which the
pipes that attach to the gas-valve rise and fall. When
gas is shifted from one end of the furnace to the other,
the pipes emerge through the slit to a height several
feet from the floor. Finally Fred made the same dis-
covery, and a broad smile spread over his face. He
continued to watch George, his grin deepening. At
last he turned to the second-helper.
'Throw her over," he said.
Nick threw the switch. Slowly and easily the valve-
pipes rose, lifting George and the head of his bed into
the air, perilously. An immense and ill-controlled
shout swelled up and got ready to burst inside the
witnesses. George slept on, and the bed passed forty-
five degrees. In another second it rolled off the side
of the pipes, and George, scared, half-asleep, and much
crumpled, rolled over on the furnace floor. It was
several seconds before he recovered profanity.
The pure joy of that event spread itself over the
When the light from the melting scrap-iron inside
the furnace shot back, it lit up the hills and valleys in
Nick's face. I noticed how sharp the slope was from
his cheek-bones to the pit of his cheeks, and the round
holes in which his eyes were a pool at the bottom.
His lips moved off his white teeth, and twisted them-
selves, as a man's do with effort. He looked as if he
were smiling. I picked up my shovel, and shoved it
into the dolomite pile, with a slight pressure of knee
against right forearm that eases your back. The ther-
mometer in the shade outside was 95. I wondered
vaguely how much it was where Nick stood, with the
doors open in his face.
We walked back together after the front-wall to the
trough of water.
"Not bad when you get good furnace, good first-
helper," he said. " Fred good boy, but furnace no good.
A man got to watch himself on this job," he went on
bitterly; "he pull himself to pieces."
"I can't manage quite enough sleep," I said,
wondering if that was the remark of a tenderfoot.
" Sometime maybe one day a month I feel all
right, good, no sleepy," he went on. "Daytime work,
ten hour, all right, feel good; fourteen hour always too
much tired. Sometime, goddam, I go home, I go to
bed, throw myself down this way." He threw both
EVERYDAY LIFE 61
arms backward and to the side in a gesture of desper-
ate exhaustion, allowing his head to fall back at the
same time. "Goddam, think I no work no more. No
day miff sleep for work," he concluded.
Later on in the day, I saw Jimmy let the charge-up
man, George, take the spoon and make front-wall.
The heat "got his goat." "I lose about ten or fifteen
pounds every summer," he said, "but I get it back in
the winter. My wife is after me the whole time to
leave this game. I tell her every year I will. Better
quit this business, buddy, while you're young, before
you get stuck like me."
I walked home with Stanley, the Pole. He always
called me Joe, the generic name for non-Hunky
"Say, Joe," he said, as we came under the railroad
bridge, "what's your name right?"
"Charlie," I answered. "By the way, where have
"Drunk, Charlie," he answered, smiling cheerfully.
"Ever since I saw you in the pit?' 3
'Three week," he stated, with satisfaction; "beer,
whiskey, everyt'ing. What the hell, work all time
goddam job, what the hell?"
WORKING THE TWENTY-FOUR-HOUR SHIFT
7 A. M. Sunday
I TRIED to get a lot of sleep last night for handling
the long turn; managed about nine hours. When I
came to the locker, Stanley w#s there, dressed, clean-
ing his smoked glasses.
"How much sleep last night?" I asked.
"Oh, six, seven hour," said Stanley.
"You 're a damned fool," I said; "this is the long
"I know, I know," he returned, "I have t'ing to
do. No have time sleep."
I looked at him. He had a big frame, but his limbs
were hung on it, like clothes on hooks. His face was a
gray pallor, sharply caving in under the cheek-bones.
His eyes were very dull, and steady. I 'd noticed
those eyes of his before, and never could decide
whether they showed a kind of sullen defiance, or res-
ignation, or were just extraordinarily tired.
"Two month more," he said.
"Two month more what?"
"Two month more this work every Sunday god-
dam work all day like hell, all night like hell. Pretty
soon go back to good job."
I knew what he meant now. He had told me weeks
THE TWENTY-FOUR-HOUR SHIFT 63
before, when we had hewed cinders together in the pit,
how he was a rougher in a Pittsburgh mill. Worked
onlv twelve hours a day and no Sundays.
"No more goddam long turn," he concluded;
"work of rougher slack now, all right October."
He moved off slowly, with no spring in his step,
and no energy expended beyond what was absolutely
necessary to move him.
I walked out on the floor to look at the clock. The
night gang on every furnace was washing up, very
cheerfully and with an extraordinary thoroughness.
They were slicking up for the once a fortnight twenty-
four-hour party. Nearly everyone drank through his
day off, or raised hell in some extraordinary manner.
It was too precious and rare to spend in less violent
reaction to the two weeks' fatigue. I looked at them
and tried not to be envious. The first-helper on Seven
was taking a last look through the peepholes as he put
on his collar. A great Slavic hulk on Number 5 was
brushing his clothes with unheard of violence.
Dick Reber passed by. He saw me leaning against
a girder buttoning my shirt.
"Front-wall, Number 5, you!" he bawled.
I was sore at myself for having been seen standing
about doing nothing. But I was sore at Dick also, un-
reasonably. I went back to my locker, got my gloves,
and went to Number 5. I began filling the spoon,
with the help of "Marty," the Wop. He glared at me,
and interfered with my shovel twice when we went
together to the dolomite pile. Marty had made ene-
mies widely on the furnaces because of a loud mouth,
and an officiousness that sat ridiculously on his stature
and his ignorance of steel-making.
I was glad when the front-wall was done. I took the
hook down, and went over to the fountain in back of
Five, cooled my head, neck, and arms, and went over
to Seven, without taking a swallow. I had decided to
have only two drinks of water in the half-day.
Dick Reber saw me coming up and, I think in
punishment for loafing, said: "Clean up under there.
I want you to clean all that filth out, all of it, from
behind that girder."
It was near the locker and under the flooring, in a
sort of shelf, where lime, dolomite, dirt, old gloves,
shoes, filth of all sorts had accumulated. I cleaned it
out with a broom and a stick. It took me half an
"All right," said the first-helper; "now get me ten
So I went off to the Bessemer, rather glad of the
walk. I climbed the stairs to the pouring platform,
and watched the recorder, who had left his book,
operate the levers. The shifting engine backed a
ladle under, and slowly the huge pig-iron mixer,
bubbling and shooting out a tide of sparks, dipped and
allowed about 20,000 pounds to drop into the ladle.
"Ten thou' for Seven," I said.
In another five minutes, the engine brought up a
ladle for my ten thousand, and the boy dipped it out
for me with the miraculous levers.
"All right," I said; and ran down the stairs fast
THE TWENTY-FOUR-HOUR SHIFT 65
enough to catch a ride back past the furnaces, on the
step of the locomotive.
The second-helper grabbed the big hook which
came down slowly on a chain from the crane, and
stuck it into the bottom of the ladle. As the chain
lifted, the ladle tipped, and poured the ten thousand
pounds with a hiss. But the craneman was careless,
which is n't usual. Fred kept saying, "Whoop,
whoop!" but he went right on spilling for quite a
spell before he recovered control.
"Dolomite," said the first-helper to me, after the
"jigger" was poured.
I went to a box full of the white gravel, at the end
of the mill, and yelled at Herb, the craneman. A box
of dolomite is about eight feet square and three high.
This one was perched on top of a dolomite pile, ten
feet off the ground. I struggled up on top, and took
the hooks Herb gave me from the crane, eight-inch
hooks, and put them into the corners of the box,
using both hands. Then I slid down, and the box rose
and swung over my head.
Herb settled it neatly on our own little dolomite
pile in front of Seven. I slipped out the front hooks,
and the back ones lifted and dumped the load, with
a soft swish, nearly on the low part of the old pile.
There was a little time to sit down after this per-
haps ten minutes. I smoked a Camel, which had
spent the last shift in my shirt pocket. It was a mel-
ancholy Camel, and tended to twist up in my nose,
but it tasted sweet. I sat on Seven's bench, and
watched Fred take his rod and move aside the shut-
ters of the peepholes, to give final looks at the furnace.
She must be nearly ready. He looked back at me, and
I knew that meant "test."
I grabbed tongs, lying spread out by the anvil,
clamped hold of the mould, and ran with them to
about ten feet from number two door of the furnace.
Fred had the test-spoon lifted and shoved into the
door; he moved it around in the molten steel, and
brought it out full, straining his body tense to hold it
level and not lose the test. I shifted the mould a little
on the ground, and closed my hands as tight as I could
on the tongs, so the mould would n't slip and turn. He
poured easily and neatly, just filling the mould, and
flung the spoon violently on the floor, to shake off the
crusting steel on the handle.
I ran with mould and tongs to the water-trough in
front of Eight, and plunged it in, the steam coming
up in a small cloud. I brought it out and held it on the
anvil, end-wise, with the tongs, while Nick flattened
in the top slightly on both edges, to make it break
easily. Nick broke the ingot in two blows, and Fred
and the melter consulted over the fragments.
"All right," said Dick.
We were about to tap. I went after my flat man-
ganese shovel, but it was gone from the locker. Some
dog-gone helper has nailed it. I took out an ordinary
In back of the furnace Nick was already busy with
a "picker," prodding away the stopping from the tap.
He burned his hands once, swore, gave it up, went
THE TWENTY-FOUR-HOUR SHIFT 67
halfway along the platform away from the tap, re-
turned, and went at it again. Finally, the steel es-
caped, with its usual roar of flame and its usual
splunch as it fell into the ladle.
I stepped back, and nearly into " Shorty," who had
come to help shovel manganese. "Where you get
shovel?" he said, with his eyes blazing, pointing to
"Out of my locker," I said.
He started toward it, and I held it away from him.
"I tell you that goddam shovel mine " he began;
but Dick, from the other side of the spout, shouted at
us how many piles to shovel, and Shorty shut up. We
were to get in the first big pile and the next little one.
The ladle was beginning to fill. "Heow!" yelled
Shorty and I went forward and put in the manga-
nese. It was hot, but I took too much interest in
shoveling faster than Shorty, to care. Then came the
second ladle, during which Shorty's handkerchief
caught on fire, and made him sputter a lot, and rid
himself of some profanity in Anglo-Italian.
I went to that trough by Eight afterward, to wash
off the soot and cinder, and put my head under water,
straight down. I knew back-wall was coming, and sat
down a minute, wondering, rather vaguely, how I was
going to feel at six or seven the next morning.
Back-wall came. I had bad luck with it, trying too
hard. It was too hot for one thing. There are times
when a back-wall will be so cool you can hesitate a
long second, as you fling your shovelful, and make
sure of your aim; at others, your face scorches when
you first swing back, and you let the stuff off any
fashion, to get out of the heat. There's a third-helper
on Five, I'm glad to say, who is worse than I. They
put him out of the line this time; he was just throw-
ing into the bottom of the furnace.
Everyone develops an individual technique. Jim-
my's is bending his knees, and getting his shovel so
low that it looks like scooping off the floor. Fred's is
graceful, with a smart snap at the end.
Then front-wall. I start in search of a spoon and a
hook. It's not easy to get one to suit the taste of my
first-helper. There's one that looks twenty feet, I
haven't any technical figures on spoons, --but it's
too long, I know, for Fred. There 's a spoon three feet
shorter, just right. Hell with two inches melted off
the end! I pick a short one in good repair, he can
use the thing or get his own, and drag it to Seven,
giving the scoop a ride on the railroad track, to ease
the weight. Fred has put a hook over number one door ;
so I hurry, and lift the spoon handle with gloved hands
to slip it on the hook. If it 's not done quickly, you '11
get a burn; you 're an arm's length from molten steel,
and no door between. I get it on, and pick up a shovel.
Front-wall can be very easy, you can nearly en-
joy it, like any of the jobs, if the furnace is cool, and
there's a breeze blowing down the open spaces of the
mill. And, too, if the spoon hangs right in the hook,
and the first-helper turns it a little for you, then you
can stand off, six feet from the flame, and toss your
gravel straight into the spoon's scoop. You hardly go
THE TWENTY-FOUR-HOUR SHIFT 69
to the water fountain to cool your head when the
stunt 's over. On number one the hook hung wrong, the
spoon would n't turn in it, and you had to hug close,
and pour, not toss. I tried a toss on my second shovel,
and half of it skated on the floor.
"Get it on the spoon, goddam you!" from Nick.
So I did.
After that, we sat around for twenty minutes. Fred
looked at the furnace once or twice, and changed the
gas. Several gathered in front of Seven Jock, Dick,
the melter, Fred, and Nick.
"Do you know what my next job 's going to be? "
The others looked up.
"In a bank."
"Nine to five," said Dick. "Huh! gentlemen's
"Saturday afternoons, and Sundays," said Fred.
The other faces glowed and said nothing.
"This would n't be so bad if there were Sundays,"
"I '11 tell you, there'll come a time," broke in the
melter, "when Gary and all the other big fellers will
have to work it themselves no one else will."
"Now in the old country, a man can have a bit of
fun," said the Scotchman. "Picnics, a little singin'
and drinkin', and the like. What can a man do
here? We work eight hours in Scotland. They work
eight hours in France, in Italy, in Germany all the
steel mills work eight hours, except in this bloody free
The melter broke in again. " It's the dollar they 're
after the sucking dollar. They say they 're going to
cut out the long turn. I heard they were going to cut
out the long turn when I went to work in the mill, as a
kid. I'm workin' it, ain't I? Christ!"
I left, to shovel in fluor spar with Fred.
When we finished, Fred said: "You better get your
lunch now, if you want it. Then help Nick on the
I ate in the mill restaurant. My order was roast
beef, which included mashed potato, peas, and a cup
of coffee for thirty-five cents. Then I had apple
pie and a glass of milk. The waiters are a fresh Jew,
named Beck, and a short, fat Irish boy, called Pop.
There is a counter, no tables; the food is clean.
I went back to help Nick on the spout, and found
him already back on the gallery with a wheelbarrow
of mud. He looked up gloomily and said: "One
I dumped the wheelbarrow, and went after more,
bounced it over tracks and a hose, and up and down
a little board runway to where the mud-box stands.
After filling up, I went back slowly, dangerously,
swayingly, over bits of dolomite and coal, navigated
the corner of the gallery by a hair's tolerance, and
dropped the handles of the wheelbarrow by Nick with
relief. It's bad on my back, that 's it. I'd rather do
two back-walls, and tap three times in high heat, than
wheel these exacting loads of mud.
Nick knelt on the other side of the spout, and I gave
THE TWENTY-FOUR-HOUR SHIFT 71
him the mud with my shovel, to repair the holes and
broken places of the spout, which the last flow of
molten steel had carried away. When he finished the
big holes, I gave him small gobs of mud, dipping my
hands in a bucket of water between each two, to keep
the stuff from sticking. A wave of weakening heat
rose constantly from the spout still hot from the last
flow. I prayed God Nick would hurry. He made a
smooth neat surface on the whole seven-feet of spout,
rounding the edges with his hands.
When I came back from the spout, Fred was in
front of the furnace, blue glasses on his nose, inspect-
ing the brew. He put his glasses back on his cap,
glanced at me, and pointed to a pile of dolomite and
slag which had been growing in front of Number 3
" All right," I said, and picked up a shovel from the
dolomite pile. For a couple of minutes, I shoveled the
stuff down the slag hole, and remembered vividly the
bygone pit-days. Then I would have been cleaning up
around the buggy. For a minute I felt vastly superior
to pit people. I earned two cents more an hour, and
threw down a hole the dolomite and dirt they cleared
I began to feel a little tired in back and legs, and
repeated Fred's formula on how to get away with a
long turn: "Take it like any other day to five o'clock.
Then work for midnight. Anyone can stand it from
midnight to morning." I did a front-wall on that basis.
"Watch those buggies!"
I ran over to the furnace and glanced down the slag
hole, yelling back, "Half full." Then Fred went to an
electric switch, and the whole furnace tilted till the
hot running slag flowed over at the doors, and dripped
into the buggy-car beneath, in the pit. I held my
hand up as one of them filled, and Fred caught the
pitching furnace with the switch, and stopped the
flow of slag.
4 P. M. Sunday
Number 8 furnace tapped, and I shoveled manga-
nese into the ladle with that man from Akron, who is
new, and who, I noticed, burned his fingers in the same
way I did on my first day. Then back-wall and front-
wall, and Jock saying all the while, "It 's a third gone,
5 P. M. Sunday
I felt much more tired after this first ten hours than
later; it was the limp fatigue that comes from too
much heat. I ate fried eggs and a glass of milk, and
then my appetite took a start and I ordered cold
lamb and vegetables. When I finished, I went back
into the mill to my locker, and took out a cigarette.
I sat on a pile of pipes against a main girder, intend-
ing to smoke; the cigarette went out, and I slept a
Things were going first-rate from six to nine. Jig-
ger, clean up scrap, front-wall Number 6, front-wall
Number 8. I could n't distinguish between this and
any other night shift; the food must have acted for
sleep. But after nine the hours dragged. From 9.20 to
10.00 was a couple of hours.
THE TWENTY-FOUR-HOUR SHIFT 73
In the middle of a front-wall, I saw the efficien-
cy man, Mr. Lever, come through and stare at the
furnace, walk around a little, and stare profound-
ly at the furnace. Mr. Lever was pointed in two
places, I noticed for the first time. He had a pointed
stomach, and his face worked into a point at his nose.
I noticed carefully that he had a receding chin and a
receding forehead. As he watched us scoop the dolo-
mite, drag up to the spoon, dump, scoop up the dolo-
mite, and do it over, for three quarters of an hour, I
thought about him. I wanted to go up to him, and
give him my shovel. I had to struggle against that
impulse to go up to him and give him my shovel.
The evening dragged. I fought myself, to keep from
looking at the clock. I fought for several hours after
ten o'clock, and then, when I thought dawn must be
breaking, went up and found it ten minutes of eleven.
I did feel relieved at twelve, and went out to the
restaurant, saying: "Hell, anyone can wait till morn-
Sometimes, when things are hurried, when tapping
is near or a spout is to be fixed, you have to eat still
drenched in sweat. But to-night I had time, and at
quarter of twelve hung my shirt on the hot bricks at
the side of the furnace, and stood near the doors in the
heat, to dry my back and legs. I then washed soot
and dolomite dust from ears and neck, and dipped my
left arm, which was burned, in cold water. At twelve
I put on the dried shirt, and went to eat.
Half the men wash, half don't. There were a
number of open-hearth helpers in the restaurant,
with black hands and faces, two eating soup, two with
their arms on the counter. Their faces lacked any ex-
pression beyond a sullen fatigue; but their eyes roved,
following Beck about. Lefflin had his arms on the
counter and his face on them.
I ate ham and eggs, which included coffee, fried
potatoes, two slices of bread, and a glass of milk.
Walking back to the furnaces was an effort of will.
I climbed the embankment to the tracks very slowly,
the stones and gravel loosening and tumbling down-
hill at each step. I tried hard to concentrate on a
calculation of the probable number of front-walls to
come. Then I wondered if it would n't pay to cut out
breakfast in the morning, and get nine hours of sleep
instead of eight and a quarter. Friselli came up the
bank behind me. He is third on Number 6.
"Well," I said, "make lots of money to-night."
"What's the good money, kill yourself?" he said,
and went past me along the tracks.
Number 8 was preparing to make front-wall. I felt
weary, and full of ham and eggs, and very desirous of
sitting down right there on the floor. But Jock, the
first-helper on Eight, said, "Oh, Walker!" when he
saw me, and we began.
Through that front-wall Jock was tiring. He worked
in little spurts. For "half a door" he would sing, and
goad us on in half-Scotch, and for the next half he
would be silent, and wipe his face with his sleeve.
After that door, he came up to us and said with pro-
found conviction, "It 's a lang turn, it 's a lang turn."
THE TWENTY-FOUR-HOUR SHIFT 75
When we finished, Jock lay down on a bench.
It 's a part of a third-helper's duties to keep five or
six bags of fine anthracite coal on the little gallery
back of the furnace, near the 'spout. I went after that
little job now. Fifty pounds of coal in a thick paper
bag is n't much to carry, till you get doing it a couple
of days running.
I sat on the seat where the Wop stays who works
the furnace-doors; they call him the "pull up." That
had some sacks and a cushion, and was broad, with
a girder for back. I fell asleep.
Something twisting and pinching my foot woke
me up. It was the first-helper. "Fifteen thousand,
quick!" he said. I got up with a jerk, feeling not
so sleepy as I expected, but immeasurably stiff. I
moved in a wobbly fashion down toward the Besse-
mer. I felt as if I were limping in four or five direc-
tions. Very vigorously and insistently I thought of one
thing. I would look at the clock opposite Number 6
when I went by, and possibly, very probably, a whole
pile of hours had been knocked off. Then I thought
with a sting that we had not tapped, and it could n't
be more than three o'clock. It was two!
"Fifteen thousand," I said to myself, "quick";
and climbed the iron stairs to the Bessemer platform.
When I came back, I walked beside the locomotive
as it dragged the ladle and the fifteen thousand
pounds of molten pig iron. Through closing eyes
I watched the charging-machine thrust in the
spout. That long finger lifted the clay thing from its
resting-place on the big saw-horses between furnaces.
Then, moving on the rails, the machine adjusted it-
self in front of number two door, and shoved the spout
in with a jar.
I stood lazily watching the pouring of the molten
steel. Fred motioned slowly with his hands, with
"Up a little, whoop!" as the stream flowed very
cleanly into the spout and furnace. Then came the
noise of lifting, that characteristic crane grind, with a
rising inflection as it gained speed and moved off.
"Pretty soon tapping, after tapping back-wall, front-
wall, the spout, morning," I meditated.
"Well, how in hell are you ? " It was Al, the pit boss.
"Fine! " I said as loudly as I could; and went and
sat down at once. My chin hit my chest. I stopped
thinking, but did n't go to sleep.
"Test!" yelled Fred.
We tested three times, and then tapped. There were
two ladles, with four piles of manganese, to shovel
in. A third-helper from Number 4, a short stocky
Italian, shoveled with me. The ladle swung slightly
closer to the gallery than usual, and sent up a bit
more gas and sparks. We put out little fires on our
clothes six or seven times. After the first ladle, the
Italian put back the sheet iron over the red-hot spout,
and after the second ladle, I put it on. We rested be-
tween ladles, in a little breeze that came through be-
"What you think of this job? " he asked.
"Pretty bad," I said, "but pretty good money."
He looked up, and the veins swelled on his forehead.
THE TWENTY-FOUR-HOUR SHIFT 77
His cheeks were inflamed, and his eyes showed the
effects of the twenty hours of continuous labor.
"To hell with the money! " he said, with quiet pas-
sion; "no can live."
The words sank into my memory for all time.
The back-wall was, I think, no hotter than usual,
but men's nerves made them mind things they would
have smirked at the previous morning. The third-
helper on Eight and Nick quarreled over a shovel, and
Nick sulked till Fred went over and spoke to him.
Once the third-helper got in Nick's way. "Get out, or
I'll break your goddam neck! " And so on
I felt outrageously sore at everyone present not
least, myself. After that back-wall all except Fred
threw their shovels with violence on the floor, and
went to the edge of the mill. They stood about
in the little breeze that had come up there, in a state
of fatigue and jangled nerves, looking out on a pale
streak of morning just visible over freight cars and
piles of scrap.
We made front-wall, and when it was over, I went
to the bench by the locker and sat down, to try to for-
get about the spout. I had been forgetting about it
for twenty minutes when Nick came up, and shook
me, thinking I had fallen asleep.
"Mud," he said.
I got him mud.
Nick fixed up the spout amid an inclination to
cursing in Serbian, and gave me commands in loud
tones in the same language. I felt exceedingly in-
different to Nick and to the spout, and finished up in
a state of enormous indifference to all things save the
chance of sleep. Jack, the second-helper of Eight, was
making tea, having dipped out some hot steel with a
test-spoon, and set a tea-pot on it.
"Want some?" he said.
Watching him make it, and drinking the tea woke
"What time is it?" I asked.
"Four-thirty," said he.
"Thanks for the tea."
Then the summoning signal for a third-helper rang
out a sledge-hammer pounding on sheet iron. They
were "spooning up," that is, making' front-wall, on
Number 6. All through that stunt I was wide awake,
quite refreshed, though with the sense, the conviction,
that I had been in the mill, doing this sort of thing,
for a week at the inside.
Coming back to Seven from that, I found Fred flat
on his back, looking "all in." Jock came up for a
drink of water, and looked over at me.
"You look to me," he remarked, "like the breaking
up of a bad winter." He laughed.
5 A. M. Monday
The sun came into the mill, looking very pallid and
sick beside the bright light from the metal. I watched
the men on Eight make back-wall, and heard the
sounds; I sat on the bench, my legs as loose as I
could make them, my head forward, eyes just raised.
"Lower, lower, goddam you, lower!" came a des-
THE TWENTY-FOUR-HOUR SHIFT 79
perate command to the "pull-up" man to close the
" Get out "
" One more "
"Up, up, goddam it! where are your ears?"
"Come on, men, last door."
"My shovel you son-of-a ! "
Now they were tapping on Number 6. The melter
came out of his shanty; he had had a sleep since the
last furnace tapped. He rubbed his eyes, and went
out on the gallery. I could hear his "Heow." Four
poor devils were standing in the flame, putting in
manganese. Thank God, I don't shovel for Six.
"A jigger," from Fred.
When I went for it, the sores on the bottom of my
feet hurt, so that I walked on the edges of my shoes.
I was so delighted with the idea of its being six o'clock,
with no back-walls ahead, that I almost took pleasure
in that foot. I stopped in front of a fountain and put
my right arm under the water.
The recorder in the Bessemer was asleep. He was a
boy of twenty. I woke him up, and grinned in his face.
"Fifteen thou' for Number 7."
'You go to hell, with your goddam Number 7! "
I grinned at him again, knew it was just the long
turn, knew he'd give me that fifteen thousand pounds;
went down stairs again
Twenty minutes of seven. It 's light. Nobody
talks, but everyone dresses in a hurry. Everyone's
face looks grave from fatigue eyes dead. We leave
at ten minutes of seven.
7 A. M. Monday
It's a problem a damn problem whether to
walk fast and get home quick, or walk slow and sort of
rest. I try to go fast, and have the sense of lifting my
legs, not with the muscles, but with something else.
I shake my head to get it clearer. One bowl of oat-
meal. Coffee. "I feel all right." I get up and am
conscious of walking home quietly and evenly, with-
out any further worry about the difficulty of lifting
my feet. "The long turns, they 're not so bad," I say
out loud, and stumble the same second on the stairs.
I get up, angry, and with my feet stinging with pain.
Old thought comes back: "Only seven to eight hours
sleep. Bed. Quick." I push into my room -- the sun
is all over my bed. Pull the curtain; shut out a little.
Take off my shoes. It 's hard work trying to be care-
ful about it, and it 's darn painful when I'm not care-
ful. Sit on the bed, lift up my feet. Feel burning all
over; wonder if I'll ever sleep. Sleep.
AT the end of every shift, when I walked toward the
green mill-gate just past the edge of the power house,
I could look over toward the blast-furnaces. There
were five of them, standing up like mammoth cigars
some hundred feet in height. A maze of pipes, large
as tunnels, twisted about them, and passed into great
boilers, three or four of which arose between each two
furnaces. These, I learned, were " stoves " for heating
the blast. I had had in mind for several days asking
for a transfer to this interesting apparatus. There was
less lifting of dead weight on the blast-furnace jobs
than on the open-hearth. Besides, I wanted to see the
beginning of the making of steel the first trans-
formation the ore catches, on its way toward becom-
ing a steel rail, or a surgical instrument.
I went to see the blast-furnace superintendent, Mr.
Beck, at his house on Superintendent's Hill.
"I'm working on the open-hearth," I said, "and
want very much to get transferred to the blast-fur-
nace. I intend to learn the steel business, and want
to see the beginnings of things."
"How much education?" he asked.
"I graduated from college," I said, "Yale College."
Would that complicate the thing, I wondered, or
get in the way? I wanted badly to sit down for a talk,
tell him the whole story army, Washington, hopes
and fears; I liked him a good deal. But he was in a
hurry perhaps that might come on a later day.
We talked a little. He said I ought to come into the
office for a while and " learn to figure burdens." I
replied that I wanted the experience of the outside,
and a start at the bottom.
"All right," he said, "I'll put you outside. Come
On Monday morning I followed the cindered road
inside the gate for three hundred yards, turned off
across a railroad track, and passed a machine-shop.
The concrete bases of the blast-furnaces rose before
me. Somebody had just turned a wheel on the side of
one of the boiler-like "stoves," and a deafening blare,
like tons of steam getting away, broke on my ear-
drums. I asked where the office was.
Up some steps, over a concrete platform, past the
blaring "stove," I went, to the other side of the
furnaces, and found there a flat dirty building the
office. Inside was Mr. Beck, who turned me over at
once to Adolph, the "stove-gang boss."
I was a little anxious over this introduction to
things, and thought it might embarrass or prevent
comradeships. But it did n't. No one knew, or if he
did, ever gave it a thought. It may perhaps have ac-
counted for Adolph's letting me keep my clothes in
his shanty that night, and for considerable conver-
BLAST-FURNACE APPRENTICESHIP 83
sation he vouchsafed me on the first day. But my in-
dividuality passed quickly, very quickly; I became no
more than a part of that rather dingy unit, the stove-
While I was putting on my clothes in Adolph's
sheet-iron shanty, he grinned and said: "Last time,
pretty dirty job, too, eh? "
"Yes," I said, "open-hearth."
He led me out of the shanty, past three stoves, up
an iron staircase, past a blast-furnace, and through a
"cast-house." That is not as interesting as I hoped.
It is merely a place of many ditches, or run-ways, that
lead the molten iron from the furnace to the ladle.
Very little iron is ever "cast," since the blast-furnaces
here make iron only for the sake of swiftly transport-
ing it, while still hot, to the Bessemer and open-hearth,
for further metamorphosis into steel.
We came at last to more stoves, a set of three for
No. 4 blast-furnace. Near the middle one was a little
group of seven men, three of them with a bar, which
they thrust and withdrew constantly in an open door
of the stove. Inside were shelving masses and gobs
of glowing cinder.
"You work with these feller," Adolph said; and
passed out of sight along the stoves.
I watched carefully for a long time, which was a
cardinal rule of practice with me on joining up with a
new gang. It was best, I thought, to shut up, and
study for a spell the characters of the men, the move-
ments and knacks of the job. I think this reserve
helped, for the men were first to make advances, and
before the day was out, I had a life-history from most
"Where you work, las' job? " asked a little Italian
with a thin blond moustache, after he had finished his
turn on the crowbar.
"Open-hearth," I said, "third-helper."
"I work three week open-hearth," he said, "too
hot, no good."
"Hot all right," I said; "how 's this job? "
"Oh, pretty good, this not'ing," he said; "sometime
we go in stove, clean 'em up, hot in there like hell.
Some day all right, some day no good."
I had been watching the stove, and caught the
simple order of movements. Two or three men, with
long lunging thrusts, loosened the glowing cinder in-
side a fire-box; another pulled it out with a hoe into a
steel wheelbarrow; another dumped the load on a
growing pile of cinder over the edge of the platform.
When one of the men disappeared for a chew, I
grabbed the wheelbarrow at hauling-out time, and
worked into the job.
In fifteen minutes that fire-box was cleared out, and
we moved to the next stove. We skipped that; the
door was locked and wedged. I learned later that, if
we had opened it, the blast (being "on" in the stove)
would in all likelihood have killed us. It blows out
with sufficient pressure to carry a man forty yards.
But the next stove we tackled. I tried the thrusting
of the bar this time. The trick is to aim well at a likely
crack, thrust in hard and together, and with all the
BLAST-FURNACE APPRENTICESHIP 85
weight on the bar, spring it up and down till the
cinder gives. It was good exercise without strain, and
so cool in comparison with open-hearth work that I
took real joy in the hot cinder. The heat was compar-
able to a wood fire, and only occasionally was it neces-
sary to hug close.
We did five stoves, taking the wheelbarrow with us,
and carrying it up the steps, when we passed from one
level to another. After the five came a lull. Two of
the men rolled cigarettes, the rest reinforced a chew
that already looked as big as an apple in the cheek.
For both these comforting acts "Honest Scrap" was
used, a tobacco that is stringy and dark, and is car-
ried in great bulk, in a paper package.
The men sat on steps or leaned against girders. A
short Italian near me, with quick movements, and full
of unending talk, looked up and asked the familiar
question, "What job you work at last time?"
"Open-hearth," I said.
"How much pay? "
"Forty-five cents an hour."
"No like job?"
"No, like this job better," I returned.
He paused. Then, "What job you work at before
"Oh," I said, "I was in the army."
His face became alert at once, and interested. The
others stopped talking, also, and looked over at me.
"Me have broder in de American army; no in army,
myseP; me one time Italian army. How long time
"Nearly two years," I said.
"Yes, but did n't get to front, before war over. No
fight," I answered, adopting the abbreviated style, as
I sometimes did. It seemed unnecessary and a little
discourteous to use a rounded phrase, with all the
adorning English particles.
He jumped down from the steps and took up a
broom, executing a shoulder arms or two, and the flat-
hand Italian salute, performed with a tremendous air.
"Here," I said, "bayonet."
I took the broomstick, and did the bayonet exer-
cises. The gang stood up and watched with delight,
making comments in several languages. Especially
the eyes of the Italians danced. The incident left a
genial social atmosphere.
Adolph came in from behind one of the stoves as I
was concluding a "long point."
"Come on," he said, looking at me with a grin; and
when I had followed him, "I show you furnace, li'l
He took me to a stair-ladder near the skip that as-
cended to the top of Number 5. For every furnace, a
skip carries up the ore and other ingredients for melt-
ing inside. It is a funicular-like thing, a continuous
belt, with boxes attached, running from the "hopper"
at the top of the furnace to the "stockroom" under-
We started to climb the steps at the left of the belt.
There was a little rail between us and the moving
boxes of ore.
BLAST-FURNACE APPRENTICESHIP 87
"See dat," said Adolph, pointing through at the
boxes. "Keep head inside," he said, "keep hand in-
side, cut 'em off quick." He illustrated the amputa-
tion, with great vivacity, on his throat and wrists.
It was a climb of five minutes to the furnace-top.
We paused to look at the mounting boxes.
"Ore? "I asked.
Pretty soon the iron ceased coming, and a white
stone took its place in the boxes.
"Limestone," he said. "Next come coke. Look."
We were near enough to the top to see the boxes
tilt, and the hopper open and swallow the dumping of
stone. In a minute or two, we stepped out on the plat-
form on top of the furnace.
Adolph looked at me and grinned. "You smell dat
gas?" he asked.
I nodded. He referred to the carbon monoxide that
I knew issued from the top of all blast-furnaces.
"You stay li'l bit, pretty soon you drunk," he said.
"Let's not," I returned.
:< You stay li'l bit more," he continued, his grin
broadening, "pretty soon you dead."
I learned in later days that this was perfectly ac-
We stood on a little round platform fifteen or
twenty feet across, with the hopper in the centre gob-
bling iron ore and limestone. A layer of ore dust, an
inch thick, covered the flooring, and a faint odor of
gas was in the air. Each of the other five furnaces had
a similar lookout, and a narrow passageway connect-
ed them with the tops of the stoves. The top of these
gigantic shafts likewise had a diameter of some fifteen
feet; there were little railings about them, and in the
centre a trapdoor.
"What's that for? "I asked.
"Go inside to clean 'em out," he returned.
I wondered, with a few flights of imagination, what
that job would be like, and remembered that the
Italian with the blond moustache had spoken of the
duty in uncomplimentary terms.
We could look forth from this eminence and see the
whole mill yard, which was nearly a mile in extent.
Over the "gas house" a large building I hadn't
noticed before, the source of gas for the open-hearth
and far to the left, were the Bessemers, spouting
red gold against a very blue sky. On their right rose
the familiar stacks of the open-hearth. I looked in-
tently at them and wondered what Number 7 did at
that moment front-wall, back-wall, or tapping its
periodic deluge of hot steel?
In the foreground, a variety of gables, and then the
irregular roof, far beyond, that I knew must be the
blooming-mill, because of the interesting yard with the
muscular cranes, tossing about bars and shapes and
sheets of steel. An immense system of railways every-
where, running down as far as the river bank, where
were piles of cinder, and a trainload of ladles moving
there to dump. A half-mile away another ironclad
cluster of buildings, the tube mill, the nail mill, and
the rest, with convenient rails running up to them.
BLAST-FURNACE APPRENTICESHIP 89
I turned around. Near by, slightly beyond the foot
of the skips, was that impressive hill of red dust, the
ore pile. Iron ore was being taken away for the skips
with one of those spider-like mechanisms that com-
bine crane, derrick, and steam-shovel. It was built
hugely, two uprights forty or fifty feet high, at a
distance, I estimate, of a hundred yards, with their
bases secured to railway cars. A crossbeam joined
them, which was itself a monorail, along which a
man-carrying car ran. From that car dropped chains,
attaching themselves at the bottom to the familiar
automatic shovel or scoop.
First the whole arrangement moved the up-
rights, the crosspiece, and the monorail car very
slowly over the whole hill of ore, to a good spot for
digging. Then the monorail car sped to the chosen
position, and the shovel fell rapidly into the ore.
With a mouthful secure, the chains lifted a little,
enough to clear the remaining ore, and the car ran
its mouthful to the hill's edge, to dump into special
gondolas on railroad tracks. The whole gigantic ore-
hill was within easy reach of a single instrument.
"Ought to last a while," I said.
"Will be gone in a month," he returned.
We went down the ladder-steps, and stopped near
one of the furnaces. I rather hoped the stove-gang
boss would talk. He did.
"Ever work blast-furnace before?" he began.
"No," I said; "I have worked on the open-hearth
furnaces a little. But before that I spent about two
years in the army."
"Me in Austrian army," he said musingly, "fifteen
year ago. Sergeant artillery."
I thought about that, and it occurred to me that he
retained something of the artillery sergeant still, neces-
sarily adapted a little to the exigencies of American
blast-stoves. I found he knew about ordnance, and
boasted of Budapest cannon-makers.
"How do you like this country? " I asked.
"America, all right," he said.
"Good country?" I pushed him a little.
"Mak' money America," he explained; "no good
live. Old country fine place live."
We developed that a little. We discussed cities.
He asked me about London and Paris, and other
European cities. Which did I like best, cities over
there or American cities? I said American cities. He
asked what was the difference. I thought a minute,
comparing New York and London. European cities
did not have the impressive forty-story edifices of
American, and looked puny with four or five.
"Ah," he said, "tall buildings no look good. Buda-
pest good city, no can build over five story."
Here was unlooked-for discrimination. I began feel-
ing provincial. He went on to describe the cleanliness
of Budapest, and to contrast it with Pennsylvania
cities of his acquaintance. He certainly had me hands
He continued: "No can build stack that t'row
smoke into neighbor's house. Look at dis place,"
he said, pointing to Bouton, "look at Pittsburgh."
I said no more, but nodded swift agreement.
BLAST-FURNACE APPRENTICESHIP 91
He was a little more encouraging about the United
States when it came to government.
"You have a man president; that no good, after
four year you kick him out. My country sometime
get king, that 's all right, sometime get damn bad one.
No can kick him out."
But he relapsed into censure again when he came to
American women. "Women," he said, "in my
country do more work than men this country."
' They have more time, here," I said, "and don't
have to work so hard."
"American women, when you meet 'em, always
ask: 'How much money in de pock? ' What they do?
Dress up, hat, dress, shoe, walk all time Main
It was a refreshing shock to receive this outspoken
critique of America from a Hunky, a Hungarian
stove-gang boss of a blast-furnace. I was amused very
much by it, except the phrase "America all right
mak' money, old country place live." I coupled it up
with some talks I had had with men on the open-
hearth. America, steel-America, which was all they
knew, was very largely a place of long hours, gas, heat,
Sunday work, dirty homes, big pay. There was a con-
nection in that, I thought, with the gigantic turnover
figures of laborers in steel, the restless moving from
job to job that had been growing in recent years so
fast. Too many men were treating America as a good
place for taking a fortune out of. The impulse toward
learning English, building a home, and becoming
American, certainly was n't strong in steel- America.
But I left these questions in the back of my head, and
returned to the stove gang at Adolph's command.
In a few days I was well in the midst of my gang-
novitiate. We got formally introduced by name one
day in front of No. 12 stove. The little Italian with
the black moustache said : " What 's your name ? "
"Charlie," I said, knowing that first names were
"All right," he said, "that's Jimmy, Tony, Joe.
Mike not here. You know Mike? Slavish. John,
that's me. That's John too wid de bar. Hey! "
with an arresting yell, that made the others look up,
" Dis is Charlie! "
I became a part of an exclusive group of seven men,
who had worked together for about two years. There
is a cohesiveness and a structure of tradition about
a semipermanent mill-group of this sort that marks
it off from the casual-labor gang. The physical sur-
roundings remain unaltered, and methods and ways
of thought grow up upon them. I was struck by the
amount of character a man laid bare in twelve hours
of common labor. There are habits of temper, of cun-
ning and strength, of generosity and comradeship, of
indifference, that it is capable of throwing into relief
beyond any a priori reasoning. It begins by being ex-
tensively intimate in personal and physical ways; you
know every man's idiosyncrasies in handling a sledge
or a bar or a shovel, and the expression of his face
under all phases of a week's work; you know naturally
the various garments he wears on all parts of his body.
BLAST-FURNACE APPRENTICESHIP 93
You proceed to acquaint yourself, as the work throws
up opportunity, with the mannerisms and qualities of
his spirit. It is astonishing, with the barrier of a
different language, only partly broken down by a
dialect-American, how little is ultimately concealed
or kept out of the common understanding. _*~-
I was impressed by the precise practices established
in doing the work. Every motion and every interval
of the job had been selected by long trial. If you
did n't think the formula best, try it out. Many con-
siderations went into its selection to-day's fatigue,
to-morrow's, and next' month's. It had an eye for gas
effect, for the boss's peculiar character, and for all
material obstacles, many of which were far from
When the flue dust had been removed from the
blast-stoves, I found wheeling and dumping it an easy
and congenial set of movements, and consequently
took off my loads at a great speed.
At once I became a target. "Tak' it eas' What 's
the matter with you; tak' it eas'."
John Slovene, and Stoic put in an explana-
tion: "Me work on this job two year, me know; take
it easy. You have plenty work to do."
'Take it easy," I said, "and no get tired, eh? feel
good every day? "
: 'You no can feel good every day," he amended
quickly. "Gas bad, make your stomach bad."
So I slowed up on my wheelbarrow loads, sat on the
handles, and spat and talked, till I found I was going
too slow. There was a work-rhythm that was neither
a dawdle nor a drive; if you expected any comfort in
your gang life of twelve hours daily, you had best dis-
cover and obey its laws. It might be, from several
points of view, an incorrect rhythm, but, at all events,
it was a part of the gang mores. And some of its in-
ward reasonableness often appeared before the day
i was out, or the month, or the year.
Everybody wore good clothes to work, and changed
in the shanty to their furnace outfit. I usually came
in a brown suit, which had been out in the rain a good
many times and was fairly shapeless. One day I
entered the mill in a gray suit, which fitted and was
At the dinner-bucket hour in the shanty, I was
asked by John the Italian: "How much you pay for
I was embarrassed, fearing vaguely explanations
that might have to follow a declaration of price. I
suddenly recalled the fact that the suit had been
given me by my brother, so that I did n't know the
price, and said so.
"My brother give me suit, I don't know how much
he pay," I said. That dumped me into another
"What job your brother have? " I was immediately
I thought a moment and answered truthfully again.
"My brother, priest," I said.
That arrested immediate attention, and I was
looked at with respect and curiosity.
BLAST-FURNACE APPRENTICESHIP 95
Tony finally said, " Why you no be priest, Charlie ? "
"Oh," I answered, laughing, "I run away; I like
raise hell too much be priest." This was pretty ac-
"O Charlie!" they bellowed.
After that, the gang were friends to the death.
DUST, HEAT, AND COMRADESHIP
ONE day I was promoted to stove-tender or hot-
blast man on Number 6.
The keeper of the furnace was a negro. When he
was rebuilding the runways for the tapped metal, I
noticed that his movements were sure and practised.
He patted and shaped the mud-clay in the runway,
like a potter moulding a vessel. When it was tap time,
he bored the tap hole with the electric drill easily and
neatly; when the metal flowed, he knew the exact
moment to lift the gates for drawing away slag. I
watched him to see how he managed the four white
men that worked for him. They were Austrians, and
I found they joked together and showed no resent-
ment of status. Commands were given with a nod or
gesture. With the Americans on the furnace, the re-
lation was the traditional one. The negro was light
and seemed too slightly built for the job, but he per-
formed it very efficiently, and so did his gang.
The blower was Old McLanahan, a man somewhere
between thirty-five and sixty. A long, successful life
of inebriety had given him a certain resignation to
the ills of man, and enabled him to keep the heart of a
viveur throughout his life. His skin appeared thrown
like a bag over an assemblage of loosely fitted bones
DUST, HEAT, AND COMRADESHIP 97
- the only considerable part of him being a paunch
which coursed forward into a moderate point.
He was rather proud of being a blower on furnace
After the slag had been sampled he said: " Where
d'ye eat, boy?"
"I eat at Mrs. Parrell's."
"Seven a week."
"Too much. Pretty goddam good is it?"
"Damn good food," I said.
"Is Mrs. Farrell a widder woman?"
"No," I said, "she 'snot."
"Well," he said, "if you hear of a damn fine little
widder woman, let me know will yer? "
"Sure," I said.
"I'm lookin' for a place ter board, and most of all
I'm lookin' for a little widder woman ter honor wi4
After tapping that morning at 8.00, McLanahan
took a silver dollar out of his pocket. "If it comes
heads," he said, "I'm goin' out to-night, see, I'm
goin' out ter find a woman."
He flipped the coin and it fell tails. "Don't count,"
said he, "two out of three."
This flip fell heads.
"Hah," he said, "if this comes heads, I'm goin'
out to-night ter find a woman."
It fell tails.
"Hell! " he said, "Don't count, flipped it with the
He kept this up all day. Finally at 5.30 the coin
came heads. He picked the coin up and put it in his
"Coin' out, to-night," he said.
"Boss wants to keep Number 6 lookin* right. Go
down below, and clean out all that flue dust."
I shoveled between the stone arches of the furnace
base, that curved overhead like the culverts of a
bridge. Sometimes the flue dust was wet and clotted
with mud, and came up in cakes on the shovel; some-
times it was light, and flew in your nose and eyes. I
made a pile of it six feet high, and shaped it into a
brick-red pyramid with my shovel. I washed the
arches white with a hose.
"Change 'em before we tap," McLanahan ordered,
nodding at the stoves.
I went among the rangy hundred-foot shafts with a
certain sense of control over great forces. Every set
differs in its special crankiness. Number 9's have stiff-
working valves, but are powerful heaters ; Number 8's
are cool stoves, but their valves slide genially into
place. I always a little dreaded "blowing her off."
Resting my arms on the edge of the wheel, and grab-
bing the top with my hands, I wrenched it over to the
left, and the blast began. The immense volumes of
compressed air escaped with a gradually accelerated
blare. I gritted my teeth a little, and my ears sang.
Then came "putting on the gas." I climbed to a
little platform near the combustion chamber, and with
a hunk of iron scrap for hammer, knocked out some
DUST, HEAT, AND COMRADESHIP 99
wedges that held tight a door. By now I knew just
the pressure for making the iron slab creep on its
rollers. I braced my feet and pulled with back and
Through the door, the combustion chamber glowed
red. I went down the steps and slowly turned the gas-
pipe crank, bringing an eight-inch pipe close to the red
opening. I dodged the back flare as it ignited.
When the "new" stove was on, and the "old" one
lit for reheating, I went to the pyrometer shanty. In
a little hut among the furnaces were tell-tale discs,
that let you know if you were keeping your heat right.
I found my heat curve was smooth with only a tiny
hump. . . . Two Hunkies were inside the shanty.
"Nine-thirty," said one.
"How do you know?" I asked.
He pointed to the end of the curve on the disc, that
was opposite the 9.30 mark on the circumference.
"Saves me a watch," he said, with a grin.
After supper that evening, I mended a sleeve of my
shirt that had been torn on a piece of cinder in the
cast-house. Sounds of conversation were rising from
the porch. I went out a,nd found Mr. Farrell sitting
in a rocker with one leg on the railing and his face
screwed into an attitude of thinking. Mrs. Farrell,
having done the dishes, had come out to knit, and a
lanky visitor, who leaned uncomfortably against the
railing, was doing the talking. The conversation was
"Before I came to this town, nobody had the guts
to vote Democratic," said the visitor. "I'm from
Democratic parts," he went on, "and when I first
come here I used to go round. ' Come, come,' I said,
'you fellers is Democrats, you know you is. Sign up.'
'We know it,' they'd say, 'but we can't afford ter,
there 's the wife and kids we can't afford ter, we Ve
got a job and we 're goin' to keep it.' That 's how bad
' You mean "
"I mean you voted with the Company or pretty
quick you moved out of Bouton, for you had n't any
job to work at. ... I used ter work at glass blowin',
that 's a real business "
"Mr. Herder is always telling us how much better
the glass business is than the steel business," said
Mrs. Farrell. "You '11 have to get used to that." She
gave everybody a smoothing-out smile.
It was fun when you could pick up "dope" in the
course of a morning's sweat. I learned one Sunday a
few pointers about judging conditions through the
peepholes. If there is a lot of movement, your
furnace is O.K. If the cinder begins to settle into the
tuyere, your furnace is cold. If she looks reddish,
cold; blue, O.K. Don't be fooled by different colored
glasses in the peepholes.
One day we kept the stoves on "all heat" for the
furnace was cold. "All you can give her, goddam
'it," McLanahan said, looking through the peepholes.
McLanahan was always a little ridiculous. Anxiety
made him hop about and waddle from peephole to
peephole, like a hen looking for grain.
DUST, HEAT, AND COMRADESHIP 101
I heaved on the hot-blast chain, and the indicator
We had a pleasant, light brown chocolaty slag, that
day, which meant good iron. When the metal runs
out with large white speckles, she has too much sul-
phur; when she smokes, you '11 get good iron.
The other day they had too large a load of ore for
the coke and stone in her.
"Sledge!" yelled the keeper.
A cinder-snapper brought up two, and held the
bar while the keeper and first-helper sledged. They
worked well, and I watched with fascination the ham-
mer head whirl dizzily, and land true at the bar.
At last the liquid slag broke through, jet-black
as if it were molten coal, flowing thickly down the
clay spout. The clay notch was hammered and eaten
away, and had to be remade.
I watched the stove-tender on Number 7 as he
opened the cold-air valve. His motions were exactly
calculated the precise blow, to an ounce, to loosen
"How long have you been sto ve- tender ?" I asked.
"Ten years," he said.
"Go down to the stockroom and tell the skip-man,
one more coke," said McLanahan.
I was glad to get a glimpse of that part of the blast-
furnace operation. Gondola cars bring up ore and the
other ingredients of blast-furnace digestion, and run
over tracks with gaps between the sleepers. The cars,
by means of their collapsible bottoms, drop the loads
IQ2 ,. STEEL
down through, and the material falls into an under-
I entered it by climbing down two ladders, and
found the skip-man at the base of one of the endless
chains. The chamber had the appearance of a mine
gallery de luxe. I looked at the tons of ore moving up-
ward neatly, efficiently. What an incalculable saving
of labor and time, this endless chain affair with its con-
tinually moving boxes, over the old manner of hoist-
ing painfully, in few-pound lots, by hand!
I gave McLanahan's order to the skip-man and
went up the ladders.
You've got to tap, "when the iron's right," and
when a little later the keeper held the steam drill in
front of the mud wall of the tap hole, the steam
stayed at home. There was no time for a steam-fitter.
Young Lonergan and I beat it for the electric drill.
It was heavy enough to make us waddle as we carried
it on the run.
"That's bludy funny," said McLanahan. The
electric drill would n't electrify. A hurry call fol-
lowed for the electrician. He smiled benignly while
twelve sweaty men looked on. And in thirty seconds
he fixed the connection, and we tapped in time to save
When the drill had almost bored through the hard
mud in the tap hole, the keeper shoved in a crowbar,
and a couple of helpers sledged rhythmically for one
minute. Then the molten iron broke the mud into
bits, and tumbled out. Little sheets of flame from the
slag skated along the top of the red river. It rose in
DUST, HEAT, AND COMRADESHIP 103
the runway with bubbles and smoke on top. The
keeper grabbed a scraper an exaggerated hoe
and started the slag through a side ditch.
"Now try it," said Old Mac.
By then, I had the test spoon ready, scooped up a
bubbling ten pounds, carried it carefully, and poured
it into two moulds.
When I had broken the little ingots, still red, Mac
said, "Too much sulphur."
By now the metal stream had run to the edge of the
cast-house and was falling spatteringly into a ladle ten
Somebody said, "Whoop!" The negro keeper
opened the iron gate of a new runway, and the metal
rolled on its way to a second ladle. There were five
to fill, each on a railway car. I noticed the switch
engine was getting ready to drag the trainload of
molten metal to the Bessemer.
"Heow!" out of Old Lonergan's throat. The
bottom of one ladle had fallen out and was letting
down molten iron on the track. There was nothing to
do but watch it. We did that. It covered the track
like a red blood-clot, and ran off sizzling, and curdling
in the sand. It cooled, blackened, and clotted over
one rail about 10,000 pounds.
"Who clean dat up?" I heard a Sicilian cinder-
snapper say with a blank smile.
After the furnaceful of metal had all flowed forth,
we prepared to plug that tap.
I went over to the other side of the tap hole, and
picked up a piece of sheet iron. A shallow puddle of
iron was still molten in the runway. The tap hole was
crusting over with cooling iron, still aglow. I dropped
the sheet iron over the runway. The helpers came up
behind and dropped others.
"Hey, you," said the keeper summoning a helper.
They swung out the "mud gun" on a kind of crane
and pointed its muzzle into the glowing aperture. It
was a real gun, looked like a six-inch fieldpiece, but
fired projectiles of mud by steam instead of powder.
"Quick," said the keeper.
I pushed a wheelbarrow towering with mud up to
the sheet iron; then, with a long scoop-shovel stand-
ing against the furnace, shoveled mud in the gun. The
keeper stood almost over the runway with only the
rapidly heating sheet-iron between himself and the
liquid-metal puddle beneath. He operated a little
lever that shot mud charges by steam into the hole.
Every time he shot the gun, I took a new scoop of
mud. We worked as fast as our arms let us. Some of
the helpers kick at this part of their duties, but it is
cooler by several degrees than the open-hearth, and
thinking of those sizzling nights lightens it for me.
Besides, it has excitement and requires a streak of
I spent several days with young Lonergan helping
the water-tender, Ralph.
"Water connections damn important thing," said
Lonergan. I was beginning to see why. The whole
wall of the great cone-shaped furnace was covered
DUST, HEAT, AND COMRADESHIP 105
with cooling water-conduits. Without these the fur-
nace would melt away.
We ranged from furnace to furnace, climbing up to a
platform that ran around the fattest part and spend-
ing long quarter-hours on our bellies unscrewing
valves. There was always something leaking. Ralph
could come and take a look at the furnace, and send
us after tools.
"Ralph's all right," said Lonergan, "has new
names though for everything. Does n't call a goddam
wrench a wrench, calls it a 'jigger.' Have to learn all
your tools over again by his goddam Hunky names."
Young Lonergan was very "white" to me, as they
say. "I'll show you how to clean that peephole."
And he grabs a cleaning rod, and imparts the knack
of knocking cinder out of that important little ob-
"I used to work stove-tender," he explained.
"If you want to know anything ask Dippy, he'll
talk, don't McLanahan, he don't know he's livin'.
. . . Have a chew?"
"No, I'll smoke."
One day we had been discussing the bosses, and how
they had got their start, till the talk drifted to young
Lonergan and his own very typical career of youth.
"Used to work on the open-hearth," he began. "I
used to test the metal you know in the little shanty
where 'Whiskers' is now. Chemist!" he grinned.
"Then, by God, I went to work in the blooming-
mill, chasing steel you know; keepin' track of all
the ingots comin' in. A hell of a job by God you
did n't stop a second you knew you'd been workin',
boy, when you pulled out in the mornin'. I worked
my head off at that job.
"Then I fought with Towers. He gave me a week.
After I came back I had another run-in. . . . When
I carried my bucket out o' that place, I was off work
entirely. Did n't go to work for three months, thought
I never would work again.
" But after a hell of a spell, gotta job, pipe mill New
Naples eight hours a good job, but the mill's
shut down now. Then the suckers drafted me. Bal-
loon comp'ny a bloody year and a half."
There followed a very vast series of parties in the
army, and explicit views on all the officers he 'd had.
There was usually a new army story whenever I met
him. He was extraordinarily clever in getting away
with A. W. O. L.'s.
"When I got my discharge, father wanted me to
come to work here, so I did. Worked on those stoves
where you are, for a while stove- tender helper, then
stove-tender. Then I got this job. . . . Don't you
chew ? ... I '11 lose it too if I take many more days
off for sickness. Last time I was ' sick ' " he grinned
"Bert Cahill and the bunch and I took three skirts
in Bill's car to Monaca. -Had six quarts of damn good
whiskey. I was out a week. Ralph says, when I come
back: 'Pretty damn sick, you!' But to hell with 'em!
I'm not afraid of my job."
That little blower called Dippy, I found, knew the
furnace game in all its phases with great practical
DUST, HEAT, AND COMRADESHIP 107
thoroughness. I used to try to get chances of talking
with him on questions of technique.
"What about those jobs in the cast-house? " I said
one day, "the helper's jobs? Is n't it a good thing to
know about those if you're learning the iron game? "
"You don't want to work there," he said quickly,
"only Hunkies work on those jobs, they 're too damn
dirty and too damn hot for a 'white' man."
So I got thinking over the "Hunky " business, and
several other conversations came into my mind.
Dick Reber, senior melter on the open-hearth, had
once said, "There are a few of these Hunkies that are
all right, and damn few. If I had my way, I 'd ship
the whole lot back to where they came from."
Then I thought of the incident of my getting
chosen from the pit for floor work on the furnaces.
Several times Pete, who was a Russian, discriminated
against me in favor of Russians. Until Dick came
along and began discriminating in my favor against
How many Hunkies have risen to foremen's jobs,
I thought, in the two departments 'where I have
worked ? One in the open-hearth a fellow who
"stuck with the company" in the Homestead Strike
and none on the blast-furnaces except Adolph, the
My recollections were broken into by a call for
"Cooler," yelled McLanahan, his voice going up
into a husky shriek.
That meant molten iron inside, melting the cone-
shaped water-chamber around the blast pipe. If let
alone, the cooling at that place would cease, and in a
short time there would follow an escape of molten
" Cooler ! " yelled on a blast-furnace means "Hurry
I grabbed a wrench to take the nut off the "bridle"
the first step in taking out a sort of outside cooler,
"Bar," said the Serbian stove-tender very quietly,
picking up a specially curved one, and McLanahan
took the other end.
Somebody knocked out some keys with a sledge,
and the blowpipe fell on the curved bar, making the
holders of it grunt. They took it off fast, for the
instant the thing loosens, a flame shoots through the
hole and licks its edges.
Then the tuyere comes loose with a few strokes of
a pull bar. All of these moves are fast; a tuyere
goes bad every other day and men work fast like
soldiers at a gun drill.
But coolers don't break a lead but once in three
months or so; and the cone 's heavier, the gang bigger,
there 's less efficiency and more holler and sweat.
When the pull bar gets into action it looks a little
like a mediaeval mob with a battering ram. A "pull
bar" is a tool designed to translate the muscle of
many men into pull, on a small gripping edge against
which sledging is impossible. At one end a thick hook
grips the edge of the cooler, at the other a weight is
brought against a flange that runs around the bar.
DUST, HEAT, AND COMRADESHIP 109
Everybody on the gang has a piece of a rope attach-
ing to that weight.
The stove gang moving between stoves Thirteen
and Fourteen were caught and brought into this for
muscle, and a couple of passing millwrights drafted.
"Hold up the goddam end," from Steve, boss by
"A little beef this time!" from a blower. "What
the hell 's the matter, sick ? "
We all swear between breaths, and take a grip
higher on the rope the weight cracks the flange
again, and makes the bar shiver.
When the new cooler, which resembles more nearly
a gigantic flower pot, without any bottom, than
anything else, is in place, there's a cry of: "Big
That involves four or five men, lifting a kind of
ramrod with a square hammer-end, from the rack,
and lugging it to the cooler.
I get near the ramming end this time; Tony is near
me on the other side. Together we hold the hammer
against the cooler. As the end strikes, the jar goes
back through the men's hands.
Arms raise the bar painfully, and hold it poised a
little unsteadily, sway back, tense, and drive.
"Hold it, hold it on the cooler, goddam you."
Tony and I had let our arms shake a fraction, and
the hammer fell glancing on the cooler's edge.
Seated this time. Arms relax and stretch.
i io STEEL
When things are ready, Adolph makes the water
"Hold de goddam shovel, what you t'ink, I burn
A cinder-snapper holds a shovel in front of the hole
to keep the flame from his hands.
"All right, all right."
The job 's done; the millwrights pick up their tools,
and the stove gang moves off leisurely to their clean-
ing. I hear the superintendent talking with a blower
near the sample box.
"They did that in pretty good time," he says.
I used to eat my lunch and kept my clothes in a
little brick shanty near Number 4, sharing it with the
Italians of the stove gang. Although by the bosses'
arrangement it was a mixed gang, Italian and Slav,
the mixture did not extend to shanty arrangements,
and race lines prevailed. I felt that I should learn low
Italian in a few weeks if I continued with this group;
the flow of it against my ear drums was incessant and
some of it had already forced an entrance. Besides I
was learning a great deal about: how to live, what to
wear on your head, on your feet, and next your skin ;
where to get it good material to resist the blast-
furnace, and cheap as well; wisdom in eating and
drinking, and saving money, in resting, in working, in
getting a job and keeping it.
There was a whole store of industrial mores. In
some respects the ways of living of these workmen
seemed as rooted and traditional as the manners of
DUST, HEAT, AND COMRADESHIP in
monarchs, and as wise. I won considerable merit,
when I brought in a kersey cap that I got for seventy-
five cents, and lost much when I reluctantly admitted
the price of my brown suit.
Everyone on the gang performed the washing up
after work with the greatest thoroughness and success.
They devoted minute attention to the appearance of
clothes worn home. Rips and holes got a neat patch
at once, and shoes were tapped at the proper period
before holes appeared. I have seen only one or two
men in the mill who were not clean in their going-
I talked to John one day on the subject of neat-
ness. He asked, "You have to clean up good in the
I dilated on the necessity of policing when wearing
He said: "Man that no look neat, no good. I no
like him, girls no look at him. Bah!"
I was almost always offered some food from the
bursting dinner buckets of my friends: a tomato,
some sausage, a green pepper, some lettuce and cu-
cumbers. I accepted gladly for it was always superior
to my restaurant provender.
Tony told me one day that Jimmy had come over
"too late from old country, to learn speak English
and be American." He was thirty-one years old.
He was going back this Christmas. And Tony was
going too, but just for a visit. They were going to
Rome. We had talked it over a good many times, all
Italy in fact, people, women, farms. Tony turned to
me: "You come Italy with Jimmy and me this
Christmas? We go see Rome."
I assented quickly, wishing I somehow could, and
was extraordinarily proud of that invitation.
I must not forget the occasion of the green pepper.
One noon I sat beside Jimmy during the lunch hour.
The whole Italian wing were together, sitting on
benches in the brick shanty. Jimmy reached among
the loaves of bread in his bucket, and hauled out a
green pepper as big as an orange. He offered it to me
and I accepted.
Treating it like my old friends the stuffed peppers,
I bit deep. The whole shanty watched eagerly for
results. I had n't reckoned its raw strength and in-
stantly felt like a blast-furnace on all heat. Despite all
efforts I could n't keep my face in shape, or resist
putting out the fire with the water jug. The pleasure
I furnished the Roman mob was enormous.
After that I learned to eat green peppers rationally
and agree with my friends that they are beneficial.
Beyond their health qualities they have an economic
justification. With their help you can make a meal of
cheap dry bread. Plain and unbuttered it costs you
but six cents a half loaf which is a full meal, and hot
green peppers will compel you to stow it away in self-
defense. As Tony phrases it:
"Pepper, make you eat bread like hell! "
Tony thinks that Americans eat too much that is
sweet; it makes them logy and sleepy. I think he is
right. Joe claims that the people in America do not
know how to make bread; the wheat he says is cut
DUST, HEAT, AND COMRADESHIP 113
when it is too green. The gang, of course, bring
Italian bread in their buckets. It is certain that the
American lunch of a soggy sandwich and piece of
pie leaves a man heavy for the afternoon. The
average dinner bucket in the shanty contains: a loaf
of bread, a piece of meat, lamb, beef, chicken, or
sausage, -- three or four green peppers, a couple of
tomatoes, a bunch of grapes, and some vegetable
mixture like tomatoes chopped with cucumbers and
One day the gang got absorbed in stunts, climbing
a ladder with the hands, giving a complete twist to a
hammer with grip the same, the usual turning trick of
a broomstick held to the floor, etc. My contribution
was squatting slowly on the right leg with the left
stiff and parallel with the floor. John complained of a
lame thigh for three days after, I am gratified to say.
With Tony I occasionally picked a wrestling quar-
rel; he has a terrific grip and one day very nearly
squeezed the life out of me in a fit of playfulness. I
called him "Orso" afterward for his squeezing at-
tribute. Tony's make-up includes a sense of humor.
One day when he had rolled about on the floor in front
of Number 3, he said: "Ain't you 'shamed, Charlie,
you young man, fight old man like me. You twenty-
two, twenty-three, me thirty-seven!"
Tony could put me beyond this vale of tears with
his left hand.
I TAKE A DAY OFF
I DECIDED on a day off. John had lately taken one
for the festival at New Naples, and had come in to
work the next morning with the wine still at festivals
in his head. Sitting atop the blast-furnaces the other
day, looking at the blue rivers and the three hills, and
speculating about men going down to the sea in ships
because of the fat river-boat we could see had
made me sicken of the smell of flue-dust. I decided to
take a day off.
Sometimes the foreman, when you got back after
cutting a turn, would say, "I don't believe you want
this job ; you like loafing better; I '11 give it to Jimmy."
But with a seven-day week, only the mean ones
hollered. Men took an occasional holiday.
I ate breakfast with a very conscious leisure at
George's, putting down scrambled eggs, at 8.00
o'clock, instead of the coffee and toast at 5.15 A.M.
"No work to-day," said George; "lotza mon',
"Wrong, "said I.
"Mebbe you see best girl to-day."
I TAKE A DAY OFF 115
"Mr. Vincent's wife is sick," said George, changing
"Oh, I 'm sorry."
"He no work to-day; come in here for breakfast,
ten minutes before you."
Vincent was a young American, twenty-one or two,
whose brother I had known in college. He had not
gone himself, but took a straw boss's job in the pipe
mill. He had married six months before, and his wife
lived with him in two rooms in Bickford Lodge the
other hotel in Bouton. We went to the movies to-
gether sometimes, and often met for supper at the
I looked for Vincent, and found him reading the
"Saturday Evening Post" in the front room.
"Elizabeth is sick," he explained. "I'm sticking
We fell to talking mill.
"What hours do you work now?" I asked.
"Six to six."
"You get up at five."
"Yes, about that."
'That 's not true, Philip," came over the transom
from the sick room. "I set the alarm at four-thirty,
Phil sleeps till five-thirty, drinks one cup of coffee,
leaves his eggs, and catches the twenty-of-six car."
: 'You now have the story," said Phil. "It's a
stinking long day, is n't it?"
"Phil has it all figured out," Elizabeth shouted
from the back room. " From six to nine, he pays his
"Yes, I've figured it that way," he said. "The
money I earn between nine and one is enough to pay
my day's board and my wife's; one to three is clothes
and shoes ; three to five, all other expenses ; five to six
I work for myself!"
"That 's bully; I think I '11 figure mine."
"But there aren't any evenings, are there," he
went on, "or any Sundays?"
Suddenly he looked up at the chandelier. "See all
the pipes in that," he said; "I find pipes and tubes
everywhere, since I 've worked in the mill. It 's darn
interesting to pick them out. The radiator in this
room is made of pipe, see; the bed in the back room;
notice those banisters outside. I see them everywhere
I look. If I had a little money, I 'd put it in a pipe mill.
? S money in that game, once you get the market;
Coglin and I have it all doped out."
For fifteen minutes, Phil's enthusiasm for pipe-
manufacture built the mills of the future.
Toward noon I went to George's. The pit crane-
man, Herb, was there, eating George's roast beef and
boiled potato, and looking half asleep.
"I '11 fire you," I said.
"I'm on nights this week," he returned, with a
slow smile; "I could n't sleep, so I thought I'd get
up and eat some. Besides, I 've got to go to the bank.
You 're with the blast-furnaces now, huh? "
"Yes, I think I '11 like blast-furnace work," I said
I TAKE A DAY OFF 117
"if I get to be stove-tender or something. Good boss,
"They say so. Pete's as crabby as ever in our
place. He fired one of the second-helpers last week,
Eric d 'you know him ? Used to come in drunk
every day, worked for Jock on Eight."
"That's too bad," I said; "he gave everyone a
good time. Let me tell you how I amuse the gang on
the blast-furnace. You know the way they break in-
gots for a test on the open-hearth? "
"It's not like that with us. I gave everybody on
Five a treat because I thought it was."
Herb looked interested.
"Of course, on the open-hearth you pick them up
with a tongs, when they 're red-hot, and cool them in
"So there are always halves of test-ingots on the
floor, cold. On the blast-furnace the stove-tender
pours the test and knocks it out of the mould. Iron
breaks easier than steel, so he never bothers to cool
the ingot, but breaks it red-hot. Last Wednesday I
wander up from the stoves when the furnace is ready
to tap. The blower kicks busted halves of a test-ingot
out of the way, and somebody says, ' A little too much
sulphur.' I 'm ambitious to learn iron smelting, too,
and think I '11 study the fracture. I walk in front of
the blower and pick up the test."
"It was n't red-hot," I went on; "but it had
blackened over just. I dropped it, and snapped
my hand three feet behind me. The blower, the stove-
tender, the first, second, and third helpers, and the
assistant superintendent, who were all gathered, en-
joyed the thing all over the place for several minutes.
It gave them a good time for the afternoon."
When I left Herb, I took a walk through the Greek
and Slavic quarters, and stopped a while on Superin-
tendent's Hill, to study the graded superiority of fore-
men and superintendents. There were excellent little
houses here, though too young and new to express
any other character than moderate prosperity. Per-
haps it was an ungracious thing to demand more.
I walked on, past farms, and up and down consider-
able hills. I lay down on the ground, in high grass,
under apple trees which were near a tumble-down
stone wall. It was enormously satisfactory to lie in
the high grass, under an apple tree, listening to the
small August noises for a swift hour and a half.
After supper, I wanted badly to take a look at
furnace fires against a night sky, and stepped out
alone to do it. Close to the railroad station I set foot
on the hill, and climbed past a Greek hotel and stag-
gering tenements to a ridge. From there I could look
over multitudinous roofs to the flat spaces by the
river, where the mills roared and shone.
I heard heavy things dropped here and there over
acres of plate flooring; they melted into a roar. The
even whirr of the power house increased it, and the
shrieks of machinery gave it a streaky quality. There
were staccato punctuations, of course, by the whistles,
I TAKE A DAY OFF 119
and when a distant " blaw " came to me, I thought how
loudly it drove into the ears of the hot-blast man,
turning his wheel by a stove. But it was mostly the
summed-up roar that occupied your head an in-
sistent thing, that made you excited and weary at the
same time. The mills had been running for ten years;
they always had a night-shift in Bouton.
It is easy to get excited about a steel-mill sky at
night. I like to look at them. There were n't many
lights at the nail mill but just enough to show broken
outlines of a sheet-iron village there. The rolling-mills
gave some of the brightness of hot billets through the
windows, and over the stacks of the open-hearth were
sparks. By closing my eyes, I could see curdling flame
in the belly of Number 7. The open-hearth fires
showed themselves, a confused glow under a tin roof.
Some little light came on the mills out of the night
itself, though thin clouds kept washing the face of the
moon, and now and then a blast-furnace got into the
moonlight and looked perfectly confused with its pipe
labyrinth and its stoves.
From where I stood, I could see the Bessemer con-
verter pouring a fluid rope of white light; I knew it for
a stream the thickness of a hydrant. A rusty, glowing
cloud rose over the converter, changing always, and
turning that patch of sky into gold. The pattern of
smoke the blower knows like a textbook, and follows
the progress of his steel by the color of the cloud.
My mind swept over many memories as I looked at
the yellow fire of the Bessemers. There was no order
or arrangement in them. They were a stream, thick
in some passages, shallow in others, with scraps of all
sorts riding over the top. One scrap was the price the
Wop cobbler charged for soling, and another, Dick's
words when he damned me for forgetting a bag of
coal. Then there were things that wrung me and
made the palms of my hands wet, as if thoughts went
over nerves and not brain.
I looked over at the eight stacks of the open-hearth,
closed my eyes, and saw Seven tapping. The second-
helper broke the mud stoppage with his "picker," and
liquid steel belched. Pete held up two fingers. Stanley
the Pole was third-helper with me. We shoveled in
the two piles. I could feel heat in my nose and throat
and sparks light on the blue handkerchief I had tied
around my neck. We cooled off in a breeze between
the two furnaces, and as we caught our breath,
watched Herb swing the ladleful, over the moulds
I lived through the dragged hours in the morning of
a long turn. Between two and four is worst I
remembered " fixing the spout" with Nick at three
wheelbarrow loads of mud and dolomite a pitched
battle with sleep
At intervals in my memories, I grew conscious of
the steady roar the mills sent me from the river; then
forgot it, quite.
Finished ladles of iron came into mind, and I tried
to follow in the dark the path they would take along
tracks to the Bessemer. Thick red ingots of steel, big
as gravestones, I knew, were coming from "soaking
pits" to rolls, and getting flattened into blooms and
I TAKE A DAY OFF 121
billets. I could see trainloads of even steel shapes
moving out of the freight yard to become the steel
framework of the world.
"It is perfectly certain that civilization is kept
from slipping, by a battle," I said to myself, begin-
ning a line of thought.
An express train shot into view in the black valley
at my feet, and passed the Bouton station, with that
quickly accelerating screech that motion gives. I
thought of the steel in the locomotive, and thought
it back quickly into sheets, bars, blooms, back then
into the monumental ingots as they stood, fiery from
the open-hearth pouring, against a night sky. Then
the glow left, and went out of my thinking. Each in-
got became a number of wheelbarrow loads of mud,
pushed over a rough floor, Fred's judgment of the
carbon content, and his watching through furnace
peepholes. The ladlefuls ceased as steel, becoming
thirty minutes' sledging through stoppage for four
men, the weight of manganese in my shovel, and the
clatter of the pieces that hit the rail, sparks on my
neck burning through a blue handkerchief, and the
cup of tea I had with Jock, cooked over hot slag at
A battle certainly, to make an ingot trench work
in a quiet sector, perhaps, but a year-after-year affair.
The multiform steel prop which civilization hung
upon came to me for a moment rails, skyscrapers,
the locomotive just passed, machinery that was mak-
ing the ornament and substance of the environment
of men. It rested on muscle and the will to push
through "long turns," I thought. It could slip so
easily. A huge mistaken calculation : not enough coal
or cars to carry it. Or what if the habitual movements
of the muscles were broken, or the will fallen into dis-
temper ? Suppose men thought it not worth the can-
dle, and stopped to look on?
Were we to get more of the kind of civilization we
knew, conquer more ground, or have less of it? It de-
pended on the battle. And that hung, I was sure, on
the morale of the fighter. I wondered if it was n't
But at this point I considered how late it was, and
whether it was not time for bed, that I might not have
bad morale myself, with a headache added to it, at
The roar again I began breaking it up once more
into the fragments of grind and rattle that composed
it. In imagination I jumped on the step of the charg-
ing-machine as it moved on its rails past Seven. It
shook and jarred grumpily about its business, I
Near Five I got off, and started to make front-wall.
I remembered how I felt on a front-wall a few weeks
ago. I had tried to throw my mind into the unsleeping
numbness that protects a little against the load of
monotony. Other men I had seen do it, drawing a cur-
tain over nine tenths of their brain; not thinking, but
only day-dreaming faintly behind the curtain, leav-
ing enough attention to the fore for plunging the
shovel into dolomite, and keeping the arms out of heat.
Other passages from open-hearth shifts came into
I TAKE A DAY OFF 123
my mind in violent contrast. Shorty, who was always
clearly to be distinguished anywhere on the floor be-
cause he wore his khaki shirt outside his pants, quar-
reled with me one day, and showed his temper, as one
shows temper in Italy. He stood by the drinking
fountain back of Number 4, hair on end, chest bare,
his eyes a little bloodshot, and his mouth sullen
and drawn at the corners, as it always was. The
argument was about a shovel. Shorty took out a
long knife from his pocket and explained its use in
I remembered how the mill stayed in your mind
when you left it. In the hour or so in which you
washed up, walked home, ate, and went to bed, it
loomed as a black sheet-iron foreman, demanding that
you get to bed and prepare for the noise and jar it had
in store for you at 5.00 o'clock. That sense of im-
minence was a thing to bear, especially if you won-
dered whether sleep would come at all.
Then there were long strings of neutral days when
you did not think well of life, or ill of it. And there
were the occasional satisfactions. The keen pleasure
of acquiring a knack, as when I learned to "get it
across" in back-wall. And the pleasures of rough-
house. Jock, the first-helper on Seven, had once told
me in a burst of enthusiasm for furnace work that he
"liked the game because there was so much hell-
raisin' in it.''
In the midst of listening to the roar, and thinking of
shifts, good and bad, it occurred to me abruptly that
men would make front-walls in front of hot furnaces
for several hundred years, in all likelihood. I won-
dered. Perhaps Mr. Wells's army of inventors would
alter that. For several hundred years, thousands of
men had labored without imagination or hope in
Egypt, and built the Pyramids. There were similari-
ties. Civilization rested on the uninspired, unimagi-
native drudgery of nine tenths of mankind. " There
have always been hewers of wood, and drawers of
water," I heard some elderly person say at me, in a
voice of finality.
I did not stop to reply to the implications of that
sentence in my own mind, but thought more closely of
the Pyramid-builders I had known in the pit.
Marco drew Croatian words for me with a piece of
chalk on his shovel, and I put down English ones for
him. He had attended night school after working
twelve hours a day in Pittsburgh. But Marco was,
perhaps, exceptionally gifted.
The jobs we did were pick-and-shovel jobs. But
have you ever used a pick on hot slag? There is judg-
ment and knack, and he is a fool who says that "any-
one can do the job." Whenever the chance for special
skill happened by, as in hooking the crane to a diffi-
cult piece of scrap, there was an abundance, and much
rivalry to show it off. Could such substance of
"knacks" ever grow into anything more for this
"nine tenths of mankind? " I wonder.
How much of strength, of skill, of possible loyalty,
does modern industry tap from the average Hunky?
I TAKE A DAY OFF 125
I asked the question, but did not answer it for
modern industry. I answered it for the gang in the
pit and the crew on the stoves of the blast-furnace.
There were vast unused areas of men's minds and
of their muscles, as well as of their powers of will, that
were wholly unreached in the rough job adjustment of
modern industry. I mean among the so-called groups
of " lower intelligence." It was an interesting specula-
tion whether any engineer would ever find a means of
tapping this unused voltage.
I suddenly thought how inconceivable the stoppage
of that roar would be. A silent valley, with all those
ordered but gigantic forces stopped, would be almost
terrible. But just such a silence was likely to happen.
By a walk-out.
The great strike had been going a week, in other
towns -- tying up the steel production of the country.
Meetings had followed, and riots, with an occasional
bloody conflict with the "mud guard" of Pennsyl-
Part of that untapped force! I said to myself
dynamos of power of all sorts. Would it bludgeon over
a change in steel conditions, or flow back, waste volt-
age, into the ground?
The rumble in the valley again. Could I hear the
shake of the charging-machine at this distance? The
Bessemer glow had changed. The nail mill roar
seemed to increase.
I went down the hill. When I reached Mrs. Farrell's
and climbed into my back room, I set the alarm for
4.00 o'clock, putting the clock a foot and a half from
the bed. It has a knob on top, and you can stop it by
knocking down the knob with the palm of your hand.
I went to sleep, to dream about the men who built the
"NO CAN LIVE"
I WENT into the employment office one day, to fix
up the papers of my transfer to the blast-furnace, and
got into a talk with Burke, the employment manager,
about personnel work.
"What do you think of the game? " I asked.
" It 's great," he returned ; " it 's working with human
material that's what it is; there's nothing like it.
But," he added, "if you have any ideas about unions
keep them in the back of your head that is, if you
want a job in steel. They won't stand for that sort of
He looked down on his desk, where there was a
news-clipping of the demands of the American Fed-
eration of Labor's Strike Committee the twelve
demands. He pointed to it.
"We give them practically all of these here in
Bouton," he said, "all but two or three."
: 'The eight-hour day?" I queried.
'Yes, we give them the eight-hour day. Overtime
for everything over eight hours."
"Could I stop work to-day after eight hours' work
on the furnace? " I asked. "Could anyone before six
o'clock, and hold his job?"
"Oh, no," he returned.
66 1 should call that a twelve-hour day," I said.
The "safety man" came in, and interrupted. He
was a stocky young man with the intelligent face of
"That man might do something for the steel-
worker," I thought.
The men on the furnaces were talking about the
strike that day. One young American said: "Well,
strike starts Monday. Damned if I won't go if the
There were no leaders about, and it was unlikely,
perhaps, that any would appear. There seemed to be
a current opinion that any organizers "get taken off
the train before they get to Bouton."
The Old Home Week Carnival had been called off
through the influence of the mill authorities. They
were afraid of a strike committee coming from the
next town, and having a parade to lead the men out.
A special train went through Bouton that day at
about five o'clock. Everyone watched it from the
furnaces, and speculated what it meant. It was a
double-header and passed through at top speed.
"Troops going to quell strike riots," the Assistant
Superintendent, Lonergan, suggested. "A lot of those
fellers are overseas men of the National Guard.
They 're havin' trouble with 'em. I don't blame the
boys a damn bit for not wantin' 'to preserve order in
the steel towns,' as the papers call it," he concluded,
with a grin.
Haverly, an American blower, came up. "Fight
"NO CAN LIVE" 129
for democracy overseas and against it over here," he
It is difficult to say what the men here would have
done if they had had leadership. They had none,
since no organizers whatever appeared, and no speech-
making occurred in town. There was pretty good
feeling toward the company itself, which is, I believe,
one of the best. A deep-seated hatred, however, ex-
isted against the whole system of steel. There was
anger and resentment that ran straight through,
from the cinder-snapper to the h'gh-paid blowers,
melters, and, in some cases, to the superintendents.
I was quite amazed because of what the news-
papers were continually saying at the absence of
any sociological ideas whatever. I remember one day
I met my first and only Socialist. He was a stove-
tender of great skill and long experience; he told me
how bad he thought war was, and how he could n't
understand why people did n't live in peace and be
sociable with one another. But, though there were few
doctrines, except in rare instances, there was a mighty
stream of complaint against certain things such as
the company-owned town, the twelve-hour day, the
twenty-four-hour shift, the seven-day week, and cer-
tain remediable dangers. It pervaded all ranks.
There were certain days in my summer in the mills
that burned among the others like a hot ingot of steel
on the night-shift. One of them was the cleaning out
of No. IS stove early in my gang apprenticeship.
Ordinarily, the duties of the stove gang were to move
leisurely from stove to stove while they were alight,
and remove cinder from the combustion chambers.
It was pried up with a crowbar, and hoed out on to
a wheelbarrow. But when a stove was cooled for
thorough cleaning, we did our real work.
The gas was turned off in the combustion chamber
on the night-shift, and the stove allowed to cool for
several hours. We prepared to go inside her, the next
morning, to cut away the hardened cinder. John, the
Slav, went in first, with pick and shovel, and worked
an hour. Then Tony turned to me.
"You go in with me, I show you," he said.
We put on wooden sandals, foot-shaped blocks an
inch thick, with lacing straps, donned jackets that
buttoned very tight in the neck, and pulled down the
ear-flaps of our kersey caps. Over our eyes we wore
close-fitting goggles. We looked like Dutch peasants
dressed for motoring. The combustion chamber is a
space eight or ten feet long by three or four wide. It
was partly filled with cooling cinder, some of it yield-
ing to the pick, some only to the bar and sledge.
Someone shoved an electric light through the hot-
blast valve, and the appearance of the place was like
a mine gallery. The chamber was hot and gaseous,
but it was quite possible to work inside over an hour.
After Tony had loosened several shovelfuls, I could
see that the pick failed against a great shelf of the
stuff that glowed red along its base.
" Bar," he called.
The bar came in through the little round door in
three or four minutes. He held it for me, and I sledged.
"NO CAN LIVE" 131
It needed a little work like this to make you yearn
for real air. The heat weakened you quickly. We
worked about forty minutes, and then lay on our
bellies and wriggled out. The means of entrance and
egress is a small door, about fourteen inches in diame-
ter, which means absorbing a good deal of cinder
when you caterpillar through.
We finished the whole job in three hours, and then
went to the other side of the stove and cleared out
half a carload of flue-dust from the brick arches that
compose the groundwork of that side of the stove.
The dust lay a foot or two thick, and one man worked
with a shovel in each archway. Here it was hardly
hot at all, but merely thick with the red iron-dust.
As you bent over inside the archways, knee-deep in
the stuff, it would rise and settle on your arms and
shoulders; you kept up a blowing with your nose to
keep it out. Some of it was hard and soggy, and
pleasanter shoveling. Five or six of us could work in-
side the stove at once, in the different archways, each
with a teapot lamp near by, and a large, light shovel.
Men at the entrances hoed the stuff out as we threw
But it was the next day's cleaning that I remember
most strongly. The word went about that we were to
"poke her out," to-morrow. That night the gang,
and especially John, the Italian, instructed me very
seriously to bring a selected list of clothing the next
morning: a jacket, a cap with flaps for the ears, two
pairs of gloves, and two bandanna handkerchiefs.
We went on top of Number IS, and started to dress
for the job of poking her out. Over our faces we tied
the handkerchiefs, leaving only our eyes exposed.
Our necks and ears were covered with the winter
caps, our hands with two pairs of gloves.
The stove, as I said, looked like a very tall boiler:
half was a long brick-lined flue, where the gas burned;
half, a mass of brick checkerwork for retaining the
heat. Masses of flue-dust had clogged the holes in the
checkerwork and reduced its power for holding heat.
It was our job to poke out that dust.
John and Mike and I unscrewed the trap at the top
very deliberately, and dropped a ladder down. There
was a space left at the top of the checkerwork for
cleaning purposes. We worked on top of that.
Jimmy, I think, went in first, taking a teapot
lamp with him and a rod. In three minutes he was
out again, and Mike down. I began to wonder
what the devil they faced for three minutes in the
chamber. Tony looked at me and said, "I teach
I tied the handkerchiefs around my face, sticking
the end of one in my collar, and followed Tony.
My first sensation, as I stepped off the ladder to the
checkerwork inside the stove, was relief. It was hot,
but quite bearable. I picked my way slowly to Tony,
and tried to study in the dull light his motions with
the rod. The dust was too thick and the lamp guttered
too violently for me to follow his hand. I bent over
to watch the end of his rod, and recoiled. I felt as I
had when the ladle got under me on the manganese
platform flame seemed to go in with breath. It was
"NO CAN LIVE" 133
the hot blast that continued to rise from the checker-
work, and made it impossible to work beyond three
minutes in the stove.
When I mounted the ladder, and moved out into
the air, I thought, " I have n't learned much from
Tony, except that he somehow cleaned the checker-
work, and it 's best to keep the head high ; no more
Five minutes passed, and I was scheduled to take
my turn alone. Every man poked three holes and
came up. I was full of resolutions for glory and poked
four, coming up rather elated. John looked at me
sadly when I stepped off the ladder.
"What 's the matter, Charlie? You only poke 'em
half out." He simulated my motions with the rod. I
had n't qualified.
John, the Slav, was tying his handkerchief back of
"I show him; you come with me, Charlie, I show
you all right."
I was n't gleeful. The last time I had done a job
with John, we had carried pipes, many more at a
time than anyone else. John, I anticipated, would
stay in the stove, poking away, till ordinary mortals
lost their lungs.
He picked up a poking rod, after very carefully
putting on his gloves, and went over to the ladder,
descending slowly. I followed him with my teeth in
my lips, feeling for the rungs of the ladder with my
feet, and holding my poking rod in my right hand.
When L stepped off at the bottom, I felt my fingers
closing over the bent handle of the rod in a death
grip. I determined on no half-way poking.
John set to work at once, and I after him, rattling
my rod in the checkerwork with all my strength, and
pushing her in up to the hilt. I did three holes, and
John four. My lungs were like paper on fire, when
John turned to go up. We climbed out of the hole,
and took down the handkerchiefs. The gang looked
at me, and then at John.
"He do all right," he cried rather loudly, "every
time all right."
I felt extraordinarily elated, and much as if John
had given me a diploma, with a cum laude inscribed
in gold letters.
There was later a trip down inside with Jimmy. He
shouted a great many things at me in Anglo-Italian,
which caused me a good deal of anxiety but no under-
standing. I learned on coming up that he was trying
to tell me not to approach the combustion chamber
adjoining the checkerwork. That is a clear shaft to
the bottom. I was given in some detail the story of
the man who fell down a year ago, and was found
with no life in him at the bottom.
"Kill him quick," said John the Italian; "take him
out through hot-blast valve."
Two burns on my wrists were an embarrassing
legacy of this affair, for they required an explanation
whenever I took off my coat. My arms were too long
and shot from my sleeves, when poking out, and got
exposed to the gas and flame, which were still rising in
"NO CAN LIVE" 135
This incident put me into good standing with John,
the Slav, I am delighted to say. He was a stoical
person, without much conversational warmth, but he
approached me at the foot of the furnace steps in the
late afternoon; "Some people, no show new man; I
show him, I Slovene, no Italian, been in this country
eighteen year." That was about all, but enough for a
basis of friendship.
I sat on my bed and sewed up a rip in my trousers,
eleven inches long. It was lucky I had salvaged that
khaki " housewife" from the army. My gray flannel
shirt lay on the bed. There were little holes, you
could pass matches through, all over it, with brown
edges that sparks had made.
Would that sleeve last?
I made it last.
Then there were the pants.
That second-hand paint-spattered pair of mine had
lasted five days. The next, a sort of overally
kind, had stood it a month, the last week in entire
disgrace; these mohair ones I got at the Company
store were going yet. But the seat needed emergency
After sewing-time, I got up and stared out of the
window at Mrs. FarrelPs four stalks of corn. They
were doing well. I looked across at the back road,
along which a junk-dealer's wagon jangled. The mud
cliff was the horizon of the prospect. I watched a little
stream going down it among roots, which I had
watched a good many times before, and finally picked
up my army field-shoes, and took them out to a Greek
cobbler for resoling.
I shall remember for all time the "blowing in" of
Number 9, which means its first lighting up. A blast-
furnace, once lit, remains burning till the end of its
existence. I got inside her, and was delighted to
satisfy a deep-seated curiosity: we crawled in the
cinder notch. The hearth of the furnace lay six or
eight feet below the brick flooring, and the effect of
standing inside, with the fourteen round blowpipe
holes admitting a little sunlight, was like being in a
round ship's cabin, with fourteen portholes, except
that the hollow furnace shot up to dark distances
that the light did n't penetrate.
We built a scaffolding six or eight feet above the
hearth to hold firewood, and filled in beneath with
shavings and kindling. Then we took in cords upon
cords of six-foot sticks and set them on end on top;
there were two or three layers of these, and on top of
them, according to the orthodox rule, were dumped
quantities of coke, dumped down from the top, of
course, by skips; and above that, light charges of ore.
Belowthe scaffold, we spent half a day arranging kin-
dling, with shavings placed at each blowpipe hole.
When the wood was arranged, a three-days' job,
the crane brought us some barrels of petrol, and we
poured about half a one in each blowpipe hole. The
cinder notch was likewise thoroughly provided with
soaked shavings. That was to be the torch.
Men assembled as at a house-raising. Nobody
"NO CAN LIVE" 137
worked from 11.00 to 12.00 on the day of blowing in
Number 9. From all parts of the blast-furnace they
came, and arranged themselves about the cinder notch,
and on the girders above. The men and their bosses
came. There was the labor foreman, and the foreman
of all the carpenters, of all the window-glass fixers, all
the blowers, the electricians, the master mechanic.
Then came the superintendent of the open-hearth and
Bessemer, Mr. Towers, and Mr. Brown his boss; and,
finally, Mr. Erkeimer, the G. M., with an unknown
Mr. Clark from Pittsburgh.
We waited from 11.00 to 12.00 for Mr. Clark to
come and drop a spark into the shavings. When he
arrived the crowd parted quickly for him, and, with
Mr. Erkeimer and Mr. Swenson, he stood talking and
smiling for some minutes more at the notch. Mr.
Clark was a tall slender person, with glasses and an
aspect of unfamiliarity with a blast-furnace environ-
ment. No one knew, or ever found out, who he was.
Mr. Swenson showed him, very carefully, how to
ignite the shavings with a teapot lamp. Twice the
photographer, who had come early, got focused for
the awful moment, and twice Mr. Clark deferred
lighting the shavings and went on talking with
Mr. Swenson. Finally, he bent over and lit them. Mr.
Swenson rapidly turned to the gang behind him.
"Three cheers for Mr Clark!" he cried, raising his
hand. When it is recalled that none of us knew the
man we cheered, it was n't a bad noise. The furnace
smoked lustily in a few minutes, and several helpers
rushed around it to thrust red-hot tapping bars in the
blow-holes. They ignited at once the petroleum and
shavings packed around them.
Immediately after the cheers, Mr. Swenson's bright-
looking office-boy hurried through the gang with a
box of cigars, another immemorial custom in operation.
The more aggressive got cigars, then disappeared.
It was a little odd during the afternoon to see a sweat-
drenched cinder-snapper at his work with a long black
cigar between his teeth. When they were burned out,
the department settled back to normal production.
Many years might pass before such another oc-
casion in that place. During that period there would
be no slackening of the melting fires, or of the work of
the helpers who kept them alive.
I stood on the platform waiting for the 10.05 train,
and turned for a look at the landscape of brick and
iron. I remembered a Hunky who had worked in the
tube-mill for eighteen years and at length decided to
go back to the old country. On the day he left, he
went out the usual gate at the tempered after-work
pace, walked the gravel path to the railroad embank-
ment, and stopped for a moment to look back at the
mill. He stood like a stone-pile on the embankment
for a quarter of an hour, looking at the cluster of steel
buildings and stacks. He had spent a life in them,
making pipe, and I have n't a doubt this was the first
time it came to him in perspective. From my own
brief memories, I could guess at those fifteen minutes :
pain, struggle, monotony, rough-house, laughter, en-
durance, but principally toil without imagination.
"NO CAN LIVE" 139
I thought quickly over my summer in the mills, and
it looked rather pleasurable in retrospect. Things do.
There 's a verse on that sentiment in Lucretius, I
think. I thought of sizzling nights ; of bosses, friendly
and unfriendly; of hot back-walls, and a good first-
helper; of fighting twenty-four-hour turns; of interest-
ing days as hot-blast man; of dreaded five-o'clock
risings, and quiet satisfying suppers; of what men
thought, and did n't think And again, of how much
the life was incident to a flinty-hearted universe and
how much to the stupidity of men. I knew there were
scores of matters arranging themselves in well-ordered
data and conclusion in my head. I had a cool sense
that, when they came out of the thinking, they would
not be counsels of perfection, or denunciations, but
would have substance, be able to weather theorists,
both the hard-boiled and the sentimental, being com-
pounded of good ingredients tools, and iron ore,
and the experience of workmen.
Is there any one thing though that stands out? I
heard the train whistle a warning of its arrival. Per-
haps, if a very complicated matter like the steel-life
can be compounded in a phrase, it had been done by
the third-helper on Six. On the day we had thrown
manganese into a boiling ladle, in a temperature of
130, he had turned to me slowly and summed it all up.
"To hell with the money," he said; "no can live!"
TALKS OVER THE TWELVE-HOUR DAY
I HAVE tried to put down the record of the whole of
my life, as I lived it, and the whole of my environ-
ment, as I saw and felt it, among the steel-workers in
1919. To me the book is the story of certain obscure
personalities, and the record of certain crude and vital
experiences we passed through together. I think it
may be read as a story of men and things.
Many people, however, have asked me the ques-
tions: What were the conditions in steel and what
is your opinion of them? What do you think of the
twelve-hour day? or, How bad was the heat? and the
like. And, What do you suggest? Since no man who
has worked in an American steel mill, whatever his
sympathies or his indiiference, can fail to have
opinions on these points, I have decided to set down
mine, for what they are worth, as simply and infor-
mally as I can.
There is a proper apology, I think, that can be
made for the presumption of conclusions based upon
an individual experience. An intimate and detailed
record of processes and methods and the physical
and mental environment of the workers in any basic
industry is rare enough, I believe, except when it is
heightened or foreshortened for a political purpose.
No industrial reform can rest upon a single narrative
of personal experience; but such a narrative, if genu-
ine, can supply its portion of data, and possibly point
where scientific research or public action can follow.
Let me state my bias in the matter as well as I can.
I was by no means indifferent to economic and social
values when I began my job; in fact, I confess to be-
ing interested keenly in most of them. But I never
sought information as an "investigator." Most of my
energy of mind and body was spent upon doing the
job in hand; and what impressions I received came
unsought in the course of a day's work. I began my
job with an almost equal interest in the process of
steel-making, the administration of business, and the
problem of industrial relations.
Some apology I owe to the several hundred steel-
workers with whom I worked, and the many thou-
sands in other mills, since most of them know from a
far longer and deeper experience the conditions and
policies of which I speak. My sole reason for raising
my own voice in the presence of this multitude of
authorities is that the Hunkies, who constitute the
major part, are unable either to find an audience or to
be understood if they find one. Again, they are like
Pete, who, when I asked him what were the duties of
a third-helper, which I have described to the length of
several pages in this book, replied: "He has a hell
of a lot to do." And as to the American workers and
bosses, most of them lack the opportunity of any
speaking that will be heard beyond their own furnaces ;
and, again, they are too close to their environment to
see what is in it. They are natives, while I am more
nearly a foreigner, and can see their steel country
with something of the freshness and perspective that
a foreigner brings.
I want to add that the management of the mill
where I worked was a body of men exceedingly
efficient and fair-minded, it appeared to me; and any
remarks upon the twelve-hour day, or other condi-
tions, are critical of an arrangement typical of Amer-
ican steel-management as a whole, and not of indi-
viduals or a locality.
The twelve-hour day makes the life of the steel-
worker different in a far-reaching manner from the
life of the majority of his fellow workers.
It makes the industry different in its fundamental
organization and temper from an eight-hour or a ten-
It transforms the community where men live whose
day is twelve hours long.
"What is it really like? How much of the time do
you actually work ? Are you ' all in ' when you wash
up in the morning after the shift, and go home?"
To tell it exactly, if I can: You go into the mill, a
little before six, and get into your mill clothes. There
may be the call for a front- wall while you 're button-
ing your shirt. You pick up a shovel and run into a
spell of fairly hot work for three quarters of an hour.
On another day you may loaf for fifteen minutes be-
fore anything starts. After front-wall, you take a
drink from the water fountain behind your furnace,
and wash your arms, which have got burned a little,
and your face, in a trough of water. A "clean-up"
job follows in front of the furnace, which means
shoveling slag still hot down the slag-hole for
ten minutes, and loading cold pieces of scrap, which
have fallen on the floor, into a box. Pieces weigh
twenty, forty, one hundred pounds; anything over?
you hook up with a chain and let the overhead crane
move it. This for a half-hour.
Suddenly someone says, " Back-wall f" Lasts say
thirty or forty minutes. It 's hot temperature,
150 or 160 when you throw your shovelful in and
lively work for back and legs. Everybody douses his
face and hands with water to cool off, and sits down
for twenty minutes. Making back-wall has affinities
with stoking, only it's hotter while it lasts. The
day is made up of jobs like these shoveling
manganese at tap- time, "making bottom," bringing
up mud and dolomite in wheelbarrows for fixing the
spout, hauling fallen bricks out of the furnace.
They vary in arduousness: all would be marked
"heavy work" in a job specification. They are all
"hard-handed" jobs, and some of them done in high
heat. Between, run intervals from a few minutes to
two or three hours. From some of the jobs it is im-
perative to catch your breath for a spell. Sledging a
hard spout, making a hot back-wall, knocks a gang
out temporarily for fifteen or twenty minutes; no
man could do those things steadily without inter-
ruption. It is like the crew resting on their oars after
a sprint. Again, some of the spells between are just
leisure; the furnace does n't need attention, that 's all;
you 're on guard, waiting for action. Furnace work
has similarities with cooking; any cook tends his stove
part of the time by watching to see that nothing
I have had two or three hours' sleep on a "good"
night-shift; two or three "easy" days will follow one
another. Then there will come steady labor for nearly
the whole fourteen hours, for a week.
So, briefly, you don't work every minute of those
twelve hours. Besides the delays that arise out of the
necessities of furnace work, men automatically scale
down their pace when they know there are twelve or
fourteen hours ahead of them : seven or eight hours of
actual swinging of sledge or shovel. But some of the
extra time is utterly necessary for immediate re-
cuperation after a heavy job or a hot one. And none
of the spells, it should be noticed, are "your own
time." You 're under strain for twelve hours. Nerves
and will are the Company's the whole shift whether
the muscles in your hands and feet move or are still.
And the existence of the long day makes possible
unrelieved labor, hard and hot, the whole turn of
fourteen hours, if there is need for it.
Inseparable from the twelve-hour day in the open-
hearth where I worked were the twenty-four-hour
shift, and the seven-day week.
What does it mean to make steel twenty-four
hours a day? to your muscles, to your thoughts, to
the production of steel? Sunday morning, at 7.00,
you begin work. There is an hour off at 5.00 p. M.
Front-wall, fix spout, tap, back-wall, front-wall, fix
spout, tap, back-wall the second half is something
of a game between time and fatigue. For a hot back-
wall, or sledging out a bad tap-hole, may as easily
come upon you at 5.00 or 6.00 of the second morning
as at noon of the first day.
I Ve worked "long turns" that I did n't mind over-
much, and others that ground my soul. If you are
young and fit, you can work a steady twenty-four
hours at a hot and heavy job and "get away." But
in my judgment even the strongest of the Czecho-
slovaks, Serbs, and Croats who work the American
steel-furnaces cannot keep it up, twice a month, year
after year, without substantial physical injury. "A
man got to watch himself, this job, tear himself down,"
the second-helper on Seven told me. He had worked
at it six years, and was feeling the effects in nerves
and weight. Let me make an exception : one Hunky, a
helper on Number 4, was famed for having "a back
like a mule." He could, I am sure, work seven twenty-
four-hour shifts a week with comfort. But for all other
men, with the exception of Joe, the long turn is an un-
reasonable overtaxing of human strength. Lastly, the
effort of will, the "nerve" that the thing calls for
in the last hours before that second morning, is too
heavy a demand, for any wages whatever. The third-
helper on Number 8 took, I think, a reasonable at-
titude when he said: "To hell with the money, no can
The "long turn" leaves a man thoroughly tired,
"shot," for several shifts following. As I said in the
first part of this book, it is hardly before Friday that
the gang makes up sleep and comes into the mill in
normal temper. Here is the condition. You have ten
hours for recuperation after twenty-four hours' work.
Washing up in a hurry, getting breakfast, and walking
home gets you in bed by 8.00. Eight hours' sleep is
the best you can get. At 4.00 o'clock you must dress,
eat, and walk to the mill. Men who live an hour or
more from the mill, as some do, must, of course, sub-
tract that time as well from sleep. After the ten hours
off, you return to the mill at 5.00, to begin another
four teen-hours' steel-making. That night is un-
questionably the worst of the two-weeks' cycle. The
nervous excitement that helps any man through the
twenty-four turn has gone quite. The seven or
eight hours of day sleep seem to have taken that
away without substituting rest; and what you have
on your hands is an overfatigued body, refusing to be
goaded further. My observation was that, on this
Monday after, men made mistakes; there were argu-
ments, bad temper, and fights, and a much higher
frequency of collision with the foreman. Efficiency,
quality, discipline dropped.
The other accompaniment of the twelve-hour shift,
the averaging of seven working-days per week, has, I
am convinced, an equally bad physiological effect
upon the healthiest of men. As I have said earlier,
"the twenty-four hours off," which comes once a
fortnight on alternate weeks to the twenty-four-hour
shift, is a curiously contracted holiday. It comes at
the conclusion of fourteen hours' work on the night-
shift, and is immediately followed by ten hours' work
on the day-shift. As far as I could observe, men went
on a long debauch for twenty-four hours, or, if the
week had been particularly heavy, slept the entire
twenty-four. In the first instance they deprived them-
selves of any sleep, and went to work Monday in an
extraordinarily jaded condition. In the second, they
forfeited their only holiday for two weeks.
Another feature that impresses you when you
actually work under the system is that the sleep you
get is troubled, at best. You are compelled to go to
bed one week by day, and the next by night. By
about Friday, I found my body getting itself adjusted
to day sleep; but the change, of course, was due again
Monday. And yet, by comparing my sleeping hours
with those of my fellow workers, I found my day rest
was averaging better than theirs. Many of them, I
found, went to bed at 9.00 in the morning and got up
about 2.00. They complained of being unable to sleep
properly by day. The body will adjust itself to con-
tinued day sleeping, I know; but apparently not to
the weekly shifts, from day sleep to night sleep,
customary in steel.
The "long turn" of twenty-four hours and the
"seven-day week" I have never heard defended,
either in the mill by any foreman or workman, or out-
side by any member of the management, or even in a
public statement. If, by an arrangement of extra
workers, it were possible to eliminate these features
and still keep the twelve-hour work-day for six days
a week, there would, I think, be a certain number of
men ready enough to work under that arrangement.
I met one man, for example, who said: "Good job,
work all time, no spend, good job save." There are a
few foreign workers whose plan is to work steadily
for ten or fifteen years, and then carry the money
back to the old country. These men are willing to
spend the maximum time within mill walls, since they
have no intention of marrying, settling down, and be-
coming Americans. But their numbers are small, and
the desirability of their type is questionable. It is un-
wise, at any rate, to build the labor policy of a great
industry in their interest.
On those first night-shifts I wondered if my feelings
on the arrangement of hours were not solely those of a
sensitive novice. I 'd "get used to it," perhaps. But
I found that first-helpers, melters, foremen, "old
timers," and "Company men" were for the most part
against the long day. They were all looking forward,
with varying degrees of hope, to the time when the
daily toll of hours would be reduced.
The twelve-hour day gives a special character to the
industry itself as well as to the men. I remember
noticing the difference in pace, in tempo, from that of a
machine shop or a cotton mill. Men learn to cultivate
deliberate movement, with a view to the fourteen-
hour stretch they have before them. When I began
work with a pickaxe on some hot slag, on my first
night, I was reproached at once: "Tak' it eas', lotza
time before seven o'clock." And the foremen fell in
with the men. They winked at sleeping, for they did
Another kind of inefficiency that flowed quite
naturally from excessive hours was "absenteeism,"
and aJiigh "turnover" of labor. Men kept at the job
as long as they could stick it, and then relaxed into a
two or three weeks' drunk. Or they quit the Company
and moved to another mill, for the sake of change and
a break in the drudgery. I remember an Austrian
with whom I worked in the "pit," who said he was
going to get drunk in Pittsburgh, go to the movies,
and move to Johnstown the following Monday. He
had been on the job three weeks. New faces appeared
on the gangs constantly, and dropped out as quickly.
I achieved my promotion from common labor in the
pit to the floor of the furnace by supplying on a
twenty-four-hour shift, when absentees are apt to be
numerous, and it is hard fully to man the furnaces.
The company kept a large number of extra men on its
pay roll because of the number of absentees, and the
turnover percentage ran high.
It is impossible to live under this loose regime -
with high turnover, and the work-pace necessarily
keyed low because of the excessive burden of hours
spent under the roof of the mill and not wonder if
there is n't an engineering problem in it. The impres-
sion was of a vast wastage of man-hours. The question
suggested itself: "Is it in the long run, good business
an efficient thing?" An exhaustive investigation
by engineers and economists could surely be made to
answer this question.
People ask: "Is there any mechanical or metal-
lurgical reason for the twelve-hour day ? " The answer
is: No. There are several plants of independent steel
companies that run on a three-shift, eight-hour basis ;
and the steel mills in England, France, Germany, and
Italy operate with three eight-hour shifts. The long
day is not a metallurgical necessity, therefore. The
metallurgical explanation of the twelve-hour day,
however, is this. The process of making iron or steel
is necessarily a continuous one, because the heat of the
furnaces must be conserved by keeping up the fires
twenty-four hours a day. So the division into either
two shifts of twelve hours or three shifts of eight be-
comes imperative. Other industries might reduce
their hours gradually from twelve to ten, and then to
nine. With steel the full jump from twelve to eight
must be made. Without doubt, this metallurgical
factor accounts in some measure for the conservatism
of the steel companies in making the change.
It is none of my business, in summing up a personal
experience, to review the story of steel mills which
have undertaken a three-shift plan of operation, of
eight hours each, in place of the two shifts of twelve.
But the study has been made by engineers and econo-
mists, who have collected figures as to the cost of
operation on an eight-hour basis as contrasted with a
twelve. The increased cost in product which such a
change would entail is between three and five per cent. 1
The community of workers takes on a special
character, where men live whose day is twelve hours
long. "We have n't any Sundays," the men said; and
"There is n't time enough at home." This is the most
l The Three Shift System in Steel Horace B. Drury: an address to the
Taylor Society and certain sections of the Am. Soc. Mech. Engineers and of
the Am. Inst. Electr. Engineers, Dec. 3, 1920.
far-reaching effect of " hours " in steel, I think, and
easily transcends the others.
"What do you do when you leave the mill ? " people
ask. "On my night-week," I answer, "I wash up, go
home, eat, and go to bed." Anything that happens in
your home or city that week is blotted out, as if it
occurred upon a distant continent; for every hour of
the twenty-four is accountable, in sleep, work, or food,
for seven days; unless a man prefers, as he often does,
to cheat his sleep-time and have his shoes tapped, or
take a drink with a friend.
The day-week is decidedly better. You work jpnly
ten hours, from seven to five. Those evenings men
spend with their families, or at the movies, or going to
bed early to rest up for the "long turn." It is not,
however, as if it were a "ten-hour industry." Some
of the wear and tear of the seven fourteen-hour shifts
of the night-week protracts itself into the day-week,
and you hear men saying: "This ten-hour day seems
to tire me more than the fourteen; funny thing."
However the week may be divided up, it is impossible
to keep the human body from recording the fact that
it averages seven twelve-hour days, or eighty-four
hours of work, in the week.
For the men who did a straight twelve hours, "six
to six," for seven days, the sense of "no time off" was
very strong. I worked these hours for a time on the
blast-furnace, and remember that the complaint was,
not so much that there was n't some bit of an evening
before you, but that there was rip untired time when
you were good for anything work or play. When
you had sat about for perhaps an hour after supper,
you recovered enough to crave recreation. A movie
was the very peak to which you could stir yourself.
There were men who went further. I knew a young
Croat in Pittsburgh who attended night-school after a
twelve-hour day. But he is the only one of all the steel-
workers I met who attempted such heroism. And he
had to stop after a few weeks.
Now it should be mentioned that some of the social
life that most workers find outside the mill gets
squeezed somehow into it. In the spells between front-
walls we used to talk everything, from scandal about
the foreman to the presidential election. The daily
news, labor troubles, the late war, the second-helper's
queer ways passed back and forth when you washed
up, or ate out of your bucket, or paused between
stunts. Then there was kidding, comradely boxing,
and such playfulness as hitching the crane-hooks to a
man's belt. One first-helper remarked: "I like the
game because there 's so much hell-raisin' in it."
But this is hardly a substitute for a man's time
to himself, for seeing his wife, knowing his own
children, and participating in the life of larger groups.
Soldiers have a faculty for taking so good-humoredly
the worst rigors of a campaign, that some people have
made the mistake of turning their admirable adapt-
ability into a justification for war.
The twelve-hour day, I believe, tends to discourage
a man from marrying and settling into a regular home
life. Men complained that they did n't see their
wives, or get to know their children, since the schedule
of hours shrunk matters at home to food, sleep, and
the necessities. "My wife is always after me to leave
this game," Jock used to say, the first-helper on
Seven. Mathematically, it figures something like this :
twelve hours of work, an hour going to and from the
mill, an hour for eating, eight hours of sleep which
leaves two hours for all the rest, shaving, mowing the
lawn, and the "civilizing influence of children."
I have no brief to offer for the eight-hour day as a
general panacea for evils in industry. I merely bear
witness to the fact that the twelve-hour day, as I
observed it, tended either to destroy, or to make un-
reasonably difficult, that normal recreation and par-
ticipation in the doings of the family group, the
church, or the community, which we ordinarily
suppose is reasonable and part of the American in-
Steel has often been described by its old timers as a
"he-man's game." That has even figured as an argu-
ment against any innovation that might lighten the
load of the workers in it, and against any change in
the twelve-hour day itself. The industry has certainly
a rough-and-tumble quality and a dangerous streak
in it, that will always call for men with some tough-
ness of fibre. But I question whether the quality of
the men it attracts, and the type it moulds within its
own ranks, will ever be improved by the twelve-
hour day. The excessive hours, I know, operate as a
check against many younger men, who would other-
wise enter the industry. The inherent fascination of
making steel is, I think, very great. It was for me.
But the appeal is the mechanical achievement of the
industry, its size, power, and importance, even its
dangers. The twelve-hour day, on the other hand,
tends to place a premium on time-serving and drudg-
ery, in lieu of the more masculine qualities of adven-
ture and initiative.
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